Bruno: Local transit solutions offer best path to success

Each election season has resulted in the defeat of yet one more state-wide transportation-focused ballot measure. While county results vary, the message from the public seems clear: There is general agreement that road, bridge, and highway improvements are necessary. There’s also support for new transit options and technologies that would make public transit more accessible and more efficient.

Approved by the voters of the RTD District in 2004, Fastracks has resulted in significant capital improvements such as the Light Rail system and regional bus connections such as the Flatiron Flyer. At the same time, there is frustration concerning projects that were not and perhaps never will be addressed. In general, the public seems to prefer locally controlled and constructed projects and programs. Communities have also illustrated that they may support local partnerships among public and non-governmental entities. My point is, the time for local solutions is perhaps overdue.

Cities, towns, and counties have master planning documents that guide the pace and type of commercial and residential development. Communities along the U.S. Highway 36 corridor have had a measure of success by working together. There is an expectation for even greater partnership evidenced by the support for Commuting Solutions, and the imperative of addressing workforce in-commuting.

Communities and health-care entities rally around the concept of aging in place in one’s own home for as long as possible. Care facilities such as TRU PACE (Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) make this possible — but transportation is an often overlooked piece to this puzzle. For the past several years, Via Mobility Services, a 40-year old private nonprofit paratransit, and transit provider, has been leveraging the infrastructure, equipment, and funding required to deliver local and county transit and paratransit.

The cost to provide paratransit is high. Each one-way trip costs an average of $47, and rider fares cover only a small portion, about 10 percent, of this cost. Via has conducted an extensive best practices evaluation to better compare our cost structure, and we learned that Via is right in the pack nationwide as far as cost is concerned. Via covers the gap between the fare and the trip cost from various funding sources, including donations, corporate partnerships, federal and local government funding, and transportation contracts.

Transportation is vital to everyone in our community, and we will not accept the status quo. Over the last 40 years, Via has been challenged to innovate time and again to keep up with the ever-growing demand for our services, and we will continue to lead the region in providing accessible, affordable transit solutions for years to come.

Via utilizes the net revenue that we earn through contracts with RTD and the city of Boulder to partially subsidize our signature Via Paratransit Service. Via operates a federally mandated paratransit service for RTD — Via is one of four vendors operating Access-a-Ride throughout the RTD district. Via also operates RTD’s FlexRide commuter service, and since 1994 we’ve operated the HOP bus service for the city of Boulder. As our community’s need for our service continues to grow, we are actively exploring strategies to reduce paratransit costs.

Our ultimate goal is to power an all-electric fleet with solar and other renewable technologies and to welcome new technologies as appropriate. The region’s increasing urban density can benefit from appropriately-sized and green transit services, and Via is prepared to take on additional local transit routes and group trips.

I am suggesting that we focus on the local and sub-regional approach to transit problem-solving; an approach that is complementary with our partners at RTD, and with the local, county, and state government.

By focusing on more transportation efforts locally, state-wide resources can perhaps be more efficiently leveraged in the rural cities, towns, and counties. The previous focus on state-wide solutions has been ineffective, and it’s time for a change. Let’s work together to create local solutions that make progress quickly and build a transit network that works for everyone.

Frank W. Bruno is CEO of Via Mobility Services based in Boulder. He can be reached at 303-473-2882.