Colo. Springs transit system gets new base — sees improved future

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With the addition of a new administration building and service and maintenance facility, Larry Tenenholz is looking forward to more additions and improvements to the city’s bus system. As Springs Transit’s general manager, Tenenholz has a number of upcoming projects on his plate.

n The Monument Express — a partnership between the Colorado Department of Transportation, Colorado Springs Utilities and the City of Colorado Springs — will begin service next year with the addition of three clean natural gas-powered (CNG) buses at a cost of $330,000 each. The buses have reclining seats and a luggage rack, among other upscale features. The parking area in Monument will have a capacity of 250 automobiles. The project was funded by a three-year congestion-litigation air quality (CMAQ) grant of $4 million from the federal government.

n To service these buses as well as other CNG buses, Colorado Springs Utilities recently installed a compressed natural gas fueling station at the new maintenance garage. The garage, along with the new administration building and operations center, came with a price tag of $9.5 million and all three were officially completed by last month. Funding was received through the Federal Transit Administration and was staggered over a four-year period, said Transit senior grants analyst Andrea Philips. The system in place allows an 80/20 percent funding where nearly $2 million was required from the City. A little less than $500,000 was donated by the street division in in-kind services such as paving and grading. The remainder of in-kind services came from capitalizing maintenance costs from the past. That includes any costs associated with maintaining the system. Instead of reimbursing general funds each year, a portion went into the Transit’s special funds and the remaining revenue went into general funds.

n The Rampart Range extension of Pikes Peak Community College will also be Transit bus accessible by the end of the year with one-bus service. The bus is one of five new buses expected to arrive in October and are also a part of the CMAQ grant.

n A third allotment of the three-year CMAQ grants covers the Manitou Springs shuttle at a cost of $1.2 million. The shuttle services the western edge of Old Colorado City at Safeway to the Cog Railway in Manitou Springs. A free service to riders, it began its journey on Memorial Day and has completed more than 46,000 trips so far this year. It will continue free service until Labor Day, said Tenenholz, and will resume service about Thanksgiving and run until after Christmas.

n A tax incentive program to boost the number of Transit riders may be available to employers. Springs Transit is working in conjunction with the City to possibly develop the eco-pass. Still in its “embryonic stages,” the idea is to sell a group of bus passes to employers at a set discount rate, said Transit planner Michael Felschow. The passes could be passed onto employees as a benefit while the employer receives a tax break. Cities using the system include Denver, Portland and Dallas and nearly 20 other cities are looking into utilizing the system as well.

n Springs Transit continues to be a part of the 2025 plan. An updated version has been completed and passed onto the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments. This metropolitan planning organization will review the plan and, if it receives a stamp of approval, will be passed onto state officials. If it passes inspection, it then moves on to the Federal level. This process allows Springs Transit to continue receiving grants. A copy of the proposal is also being passed onto City Council for review to be included as a funding source in the November elections. The proposal includes plans for a bus rapid transit system.

n To boost interest in the city’s bus system, Springs Transit is offering “Try Transit Week” from September 9 to September 15. All rides from 5:45 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. are free, said Tenenholz.

n The Transit Center study, profiling targeted areas for a new central bus stop, will be complete on about one week, said Tenenholz.

“(The attitude about transit) is changing,” said Tenenholz. “People realize that transit can be part of the answer. It’s not the whole answer. We know that. It can and should be a part of the answer.”