ARCHIVED  May 21, 2010

Bus service approaches final stop

LOVELAND/GREELEY – It was a hopeful experiment to promote commuting and commerce between Loveland and Greeley, but in the end there were simply too few takers to make it practical.

The 34-Xpress bus service, which connected Greeley and Loveland along U.S. Highway 34, will shut down operations on July 10, according to its sponsor, the North Front Range Metropolitan Planning Organization based in Fort Collins.

The service was launched as a pilot project in August 2008 amid projections that an east-west connection between the two communities would gather enough riders to make it successful – and perhaps self-sustaining – by the end of its planned three-year demonstration run.

But local officials decided to pull the plug early due to a dearth of riders.

“It just became very apparent that the ridership just wasn’t there,´ said Loveland Councilwoman Joan Shaffer, a representative to the MPO. “There was no way that system was going to go forward beyond its three-year pilot.”

Ridership studies showed the service was struggling to achieve more than three riders per hour on the system’s three buses.

Shaffer said the lack of passengers had become an embarrassment to both cities. “Having an empty bus going back and forth was not a good advertisement for alternative transportation,” she said.

In late April, both the Greeley and Loveland city councils voted to end their participation in an intergovernmental agreement to offer the 34-Xpress. Neither community was directly funding the service, with operating money coming mostly from the Federal Transit Administration and the Colorado Department of Transportation, which owned 80 percent of the buses.

Earlier this month, the NFRMPO council decided to end the service.

Cliff Davidson, MPO executive director, acknowledged the service had not lived up to its expectations. “(Ridership’s) been pretty poor,” he said. Davidson noted a 2006 traffic projection survey seemed to show a demand for the service.

“It was one of the top-rated transit projects we could afford,” he said. “It may have been a bus that was before its time.”

No downtown connection

The 34-Xpress bus ran between Centerra in Loveland on the west to the Greeley Mall on the east. Stops in Greeley included Aims Community College, Summit View Medical Commons and Promontory. But critics of the service said it was essentially connecting two shopping malls when it should have connected the downtowns.

“My concern from the beginning was a shopping-mall-to-shopping-mall service wasn’t going to make it,” Shaffer said.

Not that downtown connections weren’t considered, according to David Averill, the MPO’s senior multi-modal transportation planner.

“We wanted to make direct connections from downtown Greeley to the Orchards (shopping) Center in Loveland and couldn’t get any support,” he said. “I just think people were at their wit’s end and weren’t willing to try anything new.”

MPO Director Davidson said he’d hoped to eventually tie 34-Xpress into Foxtrot, the bus service that connects Loveland and Fort Collins – and soon Longmont.

But Shaffer said the Loveland council saw no advantage to that idea. “Extending the service further west just didn’t make sense either,” she said, but agreed with Davidson that the 34-Xpress might have been ahead of its time.

“There is a need for some of the employment centers (along U.S. 34) but it’s very small,” she said. “I think we were just a little ahead of the game.”

Shaffer said she believes both councils wanted to distance themselves from the service because of a looming funding obligation after the pilot program ended.

“There was no way anybody was going to fund it after the three-year pilot,” she said. “To have people’s lives become dependent on that and then a year from now you can’t, that’s a pretty big deal. Even if we were making the minimum of rides, I think the cost of maintaining it would have been difficult for either city to pick up the tab.”

Davidson said while he’s disappointed that the 34-Xpress experiment failed, he has no ill feelings toward the councils for ending their support.

“I think the elected officials saw a pattern and didn’t want to get yelled at for empty buses,” he said. “It was only because they wanted to see it succeed that it went as long as it did.”  

Foxtrot to become Flex

While the east-west 34-Xpress nears its final run, the north-south Foxtrot is thriving. The service, which has been providing bus rides between Loveland and Fort Collins since 1997, will add a new Longmont connection beginning June 7.

The Fort Collins-Longmont Express – called Flex – will make stops in Berthoud and Longmont, where it will connect with the Regional Transportation District system.

“We’ve designed it to connect to RTD service to Boulder and downtown Denver,´ said Kurt Ravenschlag, general manager of Transfort, Fort Collins’ bus system.

Ravenschlag said Foxtrot, a partnership involving Fort Collins, Loveland and Larimer County, has become a regional success.

“It’s doing quite well,” he said. “It’s one of our best-performing routes within the Transfort system, operating at 30 passengers per hour.”

The two-year pilot expansion to Longmont is being funded by a $1.2 million Congestion, Mitigation and Air Quality grant received by COLT – City of Loveland Transit – under the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Transfort will operate Flex with Transfort buses.

Ravenschlag said the new service, which marks the first time the Northern Front Range will be connected by bus to the Denver metro area, is something that’s been long awaited.

“We really feel it could be quite successful,” he said. “We’ll also be offering service on Saturdays so people can ride the bus to ball games or other Denver attractions.”

Ravenschlag said weekday commuters can ride the bus all the way from Fort Collins to Denver in “about one hour and 40 minutes” for $1.25 each way.

Ravenschlag said he didn’t want to comment on why the east-west 34-Xpress didn’t succeed, but he noted that the north-south Foxtrot and now Flex has the advantage of traveling along a transportation corridor with more employment and shopping center destinations.

“I feel our service has been successful because it was based on proven travel routes,” he said.

LOVELAND/GREELEY – It was a hopeful experiment to promote commuting and commerce between Loveland and Greeley, but in the end there were simply too few takers to make it practical.

The 34-Xpress bus service, which connected Greeley and Loveland along U.S. Highway 34, will shut down operations on July 10, according to its sponsor, the North Front Range Metropolitan Planning Organization based in Fort Collins.

The service was launched as a pilot project in August 2008 amid projections that an east-west connection between the two communities would gather enough riders to make it successful – and perhaps self-sustaining –…

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