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Mountain Express: Can it continue?

Staff Writer

In the face of potential cuts that could leave Archuleta County’s Mountain Express bus system without funding, a stakeholder meeting was held on May 23 to discuss the system, its funding, and its future.

The meeting also looked at the system’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (often known as a SWOT analysis).

“We are not a mandated service by the state,” director John Egan said. “The county is not obliged to run a bus system.”

The bus system, Egan explained, began in 1999. Currently, the system is funded by Archuleta County, through an annual donation from the Town of Pagosa Springs, and with federal and state grants.

Because of the threat to the bus system pursuant to a need for Archuleta County to thin its budget, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and the Colorado Association of Transit Agencies (CASTA) have provided a consultant to work with Egan and Mountain Express to help figure out how to move the bus system forward.

That consultant, Larry Worth, was in attendance at last Thursday’s meeting. Worth conducted the SWOT analysis.

Following discussion of the SWOT analysis, detailed below, many in attendance spoke of the encouragement provided by the meeting.

“Believe it or not,” Egan said, “I feel encouraged.”

Next, Egan and Worth said, is a May 31 meeting with CDOT for the purposes of long-range planning, and further work on the SWOT analysis.

Egan noted that the continuing effort to determine the future of Mountain Express is, “going to rely very much on the community.”

Fund-raising, Egan said, will be critical.

“What does it mean about your community if services like public transportation go away?” Egan asked in closing the meeting.

Strengths

Strengths presented and discussed during the meeting included the commitment of Mountain Express personnel, the satisfaction of clients, commitment of stakeholders, and that Mountain Express is an in-place service that is both affordable and dependable.

The mobility provided for seniors and disabled citizens was noted, as was the flexibility of the service, the door-to-door service, the marketing and community awareness, and the support of CDOT and CASTA.

Also listed as a strength is the 4-to-1 national average estimated for return on investment, the reduced carbon footprint of public transportation, and less traffic on roadways.

Weaknesses

Weaknesses stated at the meeting included a limited service area, limited hours of operation, aging vehicles, lack of identity in the community (branding for the bus system), a lack of connectivity with regional services and facilities (a lack of permits to be able to leave Archuleta County and Public Utility Commission limitations on licensing), and the sustainability of revenue.

Also listed were a lack of staff in the office, lack of communication about the bus system, lack of education about the system, marketing of the bus schedule (though it should be noted that the bus currently operates only on a call-and-ride basis), and technology.

Opportunities

Opportunities listed include non-emergent medical transportation and other non-medical transport funded by Medicaid, transportation of veterans, transportation of seniors, additional federal funding and local stakeholders.

Additional opportunities listed at the meeting include fund-raising in the county, branding and marketing the bus (through a paint job), seeking funding through philanthropic services (foundations and private corporations), fees for services, shuttles to area attractions, serving employment needs, operating a “buzz bus,” a transit tax, and being an alternative for airport transit.

Threats

Threats listed at the meeting included a possible withdrawal of financial support from Archuleta County, sustainability of funding, a reduction in available grant funding should the ability to match state and federal funds with local funds decrease, equipment failure, and further curtailment of transportation services from Mountain Express.

Also listed at the meeting were a decreasing ridership, loss of interest from the community (which was called a ”loss of public knowledge” by Worth), and a lack of support from the business community.

randi@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on May 30, 2013.