The most encouraging local economic news this week didn’t come in the form of a company expanding or moving to Colorado Springs.
In fact, most folks probably didn’t even think of the story as being relevant to the business community. But it certainly could be. Make that should be.
As reported this week by the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Department of Transportation is planning to start regional bus service as soon as March between Denver and the cities of Fort Collins, Glenwood Springs and Colorado Springs.
In our case, it means reviving a new form of the former FrontRange Express service, which served the Springs-Denver route from 2004 to 2012. During those years, the FREX bus option was fairly popular, both for riders commuting to jobs in Denver and others simply preferring not to drive.
But in the end, Mayor Steve Bach and the Colorado Springs city government pulled the plug, insisting that with tight budgets the expense wasn’t worth it and the ridership was insufficient.
CDOT was maneuvering to take over FREX from Colorado Springs and avoid a lapse for the regular clientele, but the timing didn’t work.
Two years later, seeing more and more traffic on Interstates 70 and 25 in and out of Denver, CDOT feels the time has come to provide the service as an alternative. The buses, already purchased, reportedly will be ready next month. Then it’s simply a matter of hiring and training drivers, so that projected March debut might even happen sooner.
For this market, the buses will run six times daily each way (perhaps not as many on weekends, unless demand is good), obviously more often around the hours that would coincide with typical work schedules.
And the Springs-Denver fares will be reasonable: $12 each way between here and Denver’s Union Station, with discount offers for regular passengers buying multi-ride passes.
That cost won’t scare off many people, especially those who realize they can avoid dealing with wear and tear on their cars, and they will have the ability to do work on the bus instead of concentrating on driving. That’s value.
To enhance the lure, according to the Independent, all of the buses will have “bathrooms, reclining seats, trays, Wi-Fi, plug-ins for computers and phones, bicycle racks, and storage compartments for luggage and additional bicycles.”
Those creature comforts, along with the cost and time factors, should make the bus service something worth marketing for Colorado Springs.
How, you ask? Simple.
We’ve talked before about the rising need, and public desire (if a recent CSBJ reader poll is any indication), for developing more mass transit between the Springs and Denver. Obviously the first choice would be train service, but until that’s feasible, buses are a start.
Now it’s merely a matter of raising public awareness, among everybody from employers on both ends to young professionals.
The task would be easily defined.
First, try to appeal to adults, probably ages 21-45, who realize Denver has more high-tech jobs but Colorado Springs has far more outdoor recreation opportunities. They might live here and work in Denver, but they’d bring their paychecks to Colorado Springs and spend that money on this end. Likewise, companies that have operations in both cities might capitalize on the service, giving employees the choice whenever possible to bounce back and forth, even counting time worked on the bus.
Likewise, the Springs companies who have had trouble luring employees away from Denver now can offer a different option: Go ahead and live in Denver if you prefer the bigger city, but ride that bus down here to work each day.
That might not sound good to Baby Boomers who would rather have the convenience of driving their own cars to work. But to the Millennials (born around 1980 or later), so many of whom don’t want big car payments or suburban life, the idea of taking a bus — and someday a train — for a work commute makes far more sense.
This isn’t some wild dream. As regular readers should recall, I wrote about this very topic in May after the Regional Leaders Trip to Salt Lake City, where the Colorado Springs contingent rode a train from Salt Lake up to Ogden (about an hour north) and back. We saw for ourselves how young adults used that train, many working on computers along the way because their employers allowed that time to be the first and last hours of the workday.
Now, here’s our opportunity. The state is giving us a nice gift to use for potential economic development.
Let’s see what we can do with it.