It’s not hard to understand the frustration of Grand Junction Mayor Gregg Palmer with respect to Grand Valley Transit.
Four years after the city asked officials with the local bus service to look at other sources of funding — especially a tax-funded transportation district — virtually nothing has happened in that regard.
Instead, GVT is back asking Grand Junction and other municipalities in the valley to commit to four more years of subsidies for the bus system, with the amount contributed by the communities increasing each year.
On top of that, as Palmer noted in an article in Sunday’s Daily Sentinel, officials with GVT have ignored the city’s request about some operational issues within the city, such as creating bus pull-out areas to improve safety.
During its nearly 10 years of operation, Grand Valley Transit has definitely had an impact on the community. It has provided a much-needed transportation alternative to many residents of this community. It’s ridership grew steadily the first few years, before plateauing between 650,000 and 750,000 rides a year. There’s little doubt that ridership would increase even more
if GVT could increase the frequency of its bus trips and run buses later in the evening.
But to do that takes money, and there’s the rub. Ridership fees cover less than 10 percent of the operational costs of the bus system, so Grand Valley Transit must depend on federal grants and local tax funds to cover most of its costs.
However, with the city of Grand Junction looking at ways to cut its own budget in the face of the most serious revenue downturn since the mid-1980s, it’s hardly surprising that members of the City Council are reluctant to agree to a new four-year funding pact for GVT in which the city’s contribution would increase each year. That will simply reduce the amount of money available for other city needs.
As we said when Grand Valley Transit was being formed, and again four years ago when the city suggested the GVT look for other sources of revenue, the only true way to gauge community support for the bus system is to let citizens vote on it. Put together a plan for a tax-funded transportation district and put it to a vote.
That said, however, this year is not the appropriate time for such a vote. As both the city and school district learned last fall, voters are in no mood to approve tax increases for public facilities in the midst of the current economic crisis.
The City Council should continue funding Grand Valley Transit — at its current level — for perhaps two more years. But in that time, GVT must come up with a plan to fund itself. It cannot indefinitely depend on the Grand Junction City Council or the boards of other municipalities to use money from their taxpayers to fund the bus system’s operations.