Rose Cruz smiled when she learned she can continue to rely on the Art Shuttle services now that the city and RTD agreed to fund the program for another year.
“The free bus gives me independence and freedom I wouldn't have otherwise,” she said as she waited at the stop by Walmart. “My husband died about 18 months ago, I don't drive so I had to depend on someone to take me to doctor's appointments and shopping. Then I learned about our free shuttle bus. It is great. I can get groceries, shop a little, visit friends and get to the doctor without depending on anyone to drive me there.”
The route is a 19-stop, three-mile circuit from the light rail station, through central Englewood, to the Swedish/Craig campus area. The return route wends its way through downtown to the light rail station. The shuttle is in operation Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. with a bus scheduled to arrive at each stop about every 15 minutes.
Getenet Dagnew was driving the shuttle on Jan. 24.
“I have been driving the shuttle for about seven months and I like to drive this route,” he said. “Most of the passengers are good people. Just about everyone thanks me for the ride as they get off. I don't think you would hear that so often on a regular bus route.”
Englewood's shuttle bus began operation in September 2004, thanks to a federal grant that covered 80 percent of the cost of the project
When the three-year grant ran out, the city worked out a cost-sharing agreement with RTD so the bus would continue running. The city's share, $60,328 for 2013, is based on a survey to determine the estimated amount that would have been collected if it cost to ride the shuttle. The remainder of the cost of operation and fuel, $278,310, is paid by RTD.
Ridership has exceeded expectations from the day the bus began operation. Over the last three years, there has been a steady increase in ridership. In 2010, the average monthly ridership was 14, 255. Last year, more than 190,000 people rode the shuttle, which is an average monthly ridership of 15,852.
Facing a budget crunch in 2011, the city council considered eliminating the shuttle. Residents came to council meetings to urge that the bus continue to operate, and the community stepped forward to help pay the city's share. That year there were donations from Craig Hospital, Swedish Medical Center and residents who lived in Orchard Place, Simon Center and the Meridian.
This year, there were donations from the Englewood Lions and from the Englewood Housing Authority on behalf of Orchard Place and Simon Center. Harold Stitt, community development senior planner, said donations from Art Shuttle supporters are applied to the city's cost for the project and the remainder of the money is taken from the budget.