Transportation between Denver and Colorado Springs has always been a contentious issue for local residents, whether they desire transit to Denver International Airport, a Rockies game, or commute to work on a daily basis.
Throughout the last year, many contradictory or infeasible ideas have been proposed as alternatives to the monotonous experience of I-25.
With proposals stretching from the possibility of constructing a high-speed railway between the two eastern Colorado cities to the reintroduction of commuter buses, it seems that the Colorado Springs City Council is leaning toward the cheaper – and older – method of transport.
The Front Range Express, known as FREX, which operated in Colorado Springs as recently as 2012, is on the verge of being reinstated as transport officials believe that a new funding source can help eliminate many of the problems that led to the initial cancellation of the bus service.
Though in the past FREX was a favorite means of transportation for professionals commuting between Colorado Springs and Denver, the service the buses provided was unsustainable because of disproportionate funding requirements that placed nearly all the financial burden of the bus service on the city of Colorado Springs, according to law makers.
This perceived inequality has been one of the major reasons Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach refused to sign a contract renewing the FREX service in the past.
Fortunately for commuters, the Colorado Springs Transportation Commission has located state funding in the form of FASTER, a piece of transportation funding legislation passed by the Legislature and former Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter back in 2009.
Les Gruen, the representative for the Colorado Transportation Commission’s Colorado Springs division, said that this was the single biggest difference between the old and new types of FREX transportation.
“FREX started like a kid asking their parents for a car and promising that if a parents buy them a car they’ll cover the operating expenses,” he said. “Then the parent buys the car and the kid doesn’t follow through and pay for the operating expenses… This time, [FREX] is going to be funded differently, which should help it serve a broader geographic area.”
Gruen also commented on how the FASTER state funding would force the once autonomous regional districts to cooperate, which could spur further strides in statewide efficiency throughout other sectors.
“In the past, the money has been doled out in little pieces to various regional transportation districts, but now rather than doing things like share-boxes for the Trinidad Transit District, we are going to try and bundle that money for a shared purpose,” he said.
The largest criticism of FREX other than the disproportionate financing was that it catered to the upper-middle class.
The Gazette recently reported that the average salary of those using the old FREX system was over $72,000, far above the city average.
In addressing these problems, Gruen believes the new FREX would be a bastion not only for “people who chose to use FREX for practical, economic or environmental purposes,” but also “for people that can’t afford their own vehicles… or people that could not otherwise access the services they should be able to.”
To help bridge this socio-economic gap, the new FREX buses will be focused on connecting city transportation systems rather than stopping near businesses and corporate areas.
This change in purpose has been coupled with proposed changes in bus capacity and modeling. The new FREX buses are meant to be larger than the old models and are going to be designed with on-board restrooms to accommodate older passengers.
Despite the fact that many Colorado Spring officials have all but guaranteed the return of FREX, there are still hurdles standing between the Colorado Springs Transportation Commission and the revival of FREX services.
The most contentious and imminent of these remaining hurdles is the purchase of the buses, which needs to be agreed upon before the 2014 tentative budget is finalized. The 11-person Colorado Springs Transportation Commission has agreed in principle to the purchases and needs now only to gain approval for FREX, which from all accounts seems likely.
Gruen, who is an acting member of the commission, believes that the return of FREX transportation from Denver to Colorado Springs is nearly complete
“I’m very optimistic,” Gruen. “I don’t see what’s really going to hold this back because we all see it as a positive.”
With little controversy or concern having been raised in opposition to the return of FREX, it seems nearly all the reasons the busing system was cancelled in 2012 have been re-imagined, re-worked, and improved.
Morgan Wack, City Editor