Transit system pumps $2.1M into economy
Paul Body doesn’t have a driver’s license, so he hops on a Grand Valley Transit bus to get where he’s going.
He uses the bus system to look for a job; his only complaint is the local buses don’t run on Sundays.
Brandie Spencer would rather drive around town for errands, but with her boyfriend’s vehicle out of gas, she was waiting with some family members for a bus to get to an appointment at the Mesa County Health Department.
Frank Taylor of Orchard Mesa recently lost his driver’s license for a drinking-and-driving infraction. He planned to ride the bus for the second time last week, and was getting himself acquainted with the schedule at the transfer station at the corner of Sixth Street and South Avenue.
“Now I’m going to use it for everything,” Taylor said. “I’ll be taking the bus everywhere. I’ll be using it to get to work, to get to probation meetings, treatment.”
These residents are a few of the 1,100 riders on any of the 11 Grand Valley Transit bus routes every day. According to a recently released study, “Economic Benefits of Transit Systems: Colorado Case Studies” by Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP), the bus system infused a net $2.1 million benefit to the community in 2011 and reduced vehicle travel by 1.6 million miles that year.
SWEEP also studied bus transit networks in Aspen’s Roaring Fork Valley, Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and Fort Collins’ Transfort.
Mike Salisbury, an analyst with SWEEP who conducted research for the study, said he was a bit surprised to find the results revealed that bus ridership provided such significant economic benefit in the Grand Valley.
Salisbury said he wanted to study the impact of other benefits, such as the value of a bus transit system to senior citizens who might be able to stay in their homes longer, the health benefits to bus riders who walk and bike to bus stops and the increased value of property near mass transit, but there wasn’t enough data to include those angles.
“In the Grand Valley, the transit system performed really well,” he said. “There’s a lot of benefits that don’t just help transit riders.”
Those benefits include less of a need for parking infrastructure, reduced traffic and income from bus riders able to get to work because of bus service, he said.
According to the study, GVT’s economic benefit is in the black, but Fort Collins’ Transfort system, which costs $5.4 million a year, was determined to offer the city a value of $5.1 million, a $300,000 deficit.
In stark contrast, RFTA, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, which operates buses along a 68-mile corridor from Rifle to Aspen, created an estimated net value of nearly $50 million in 2011, according to the study.
RFTA operates on $13.5 million a year.
Salisbury said SWEEP chose GVT as one of the bus systems to study to offer some perspective on smaller bus transit systems, as compared to ridership benefits on the Front Range.
GVT participated in the study, but did not commission or pay for it, said Todd Hollenbeck, manager of Grand Valley Transit.
“It certainly helps to make a point,” he said. “It was good to get a different perspective.”
Invariably, some local government officials each year seem to balk about having to allocate dollars for transit costs. Local governments contribute about $1.4 million to GVT, but state and federal funds pay for other operating costs, Hollenbeck said.
GVT has saved about $100,000 to date in fuel costs with two compressed natural gas buses, Hollenbeck said. Two more “desperately needed” CNG busses will be added to the fleet next month, he said.
GVT covers 66 square miles and an average of 29 percent of riders use the buses to commute to work, the study said.
To read the study, visit SWEEP at swenergy.org.