Keeping the free trolley free
To the Editor,
The Multi Modal Advisory Board is a volunteer board appointed by the City Council to advise on matters regarding cycling, walking and transit. 
This board has recently recommended that the current method of funding the trolley remain in place, and also that the lodgers tax be increased to create a steady funding source for Durango Transit. The intent of this letter is to provide some background on how and why transit services are funded in Durango.

For starters, the free trolley isn’t free. We just call it free to get the attention of out-of-town folks, and this has been successful. The fact is, everyone who rides the trolley pays for it. When you buy groceries, plug a parking meter, stay in a hotel room, or attend Fort Lewis College, you are paying for the trolley. Like most other components of the City of Durango’s transportation system, the trolley is funded from a number of sources, including:  Federal Transit Administration; Transit and Parking Fund; Fort Lewis College student fees; Business Improvement District; lodgers tax; special events fees; and the Methodist Thrift Store.
However, federal funding that transit agencies across the nation depend upon is decreasing.  Durango Transit, as well as approximately 70 other transit agencies in Colorado, depend on this type of funding.
Other free City services aren’t free either. The City is in the transportation business, which includes the construction, operation and maintenance of streets, trails and transit services. All of these transportation components lack a user fee, so to the untrained eye, may appear “free.” The exception to this is Durango Transit, the “T,” which includes the fixed route loop buses, the Buzzbus and the Opportunity Bus. It’s important to note that many other city services do not have user fees either.  These include the library, snowplowing, street sweeping, playgrounds, open space, parks, cemetery, athletic fields, river access, recycling drop-offs, police and fire protection. Most of these services are funded from a number of sources, primarily sales tax. In 2008, the City Council made the decision to include the trolley in this category of services. The Multi Modal Advisory Board4 recommended this change and enthusiastically supports the continuing funding of the trolley from sources other than farebox revenue.
Trolley ridership has nearly tripled since 2002.  Among the many benefits of this is that for locals, riding the trolley is the “gateway” to the transit experience, leading individuals to use of the rest of the transit system. Increasing use of transit is a benefit to the entire community. And this increase in the “paying” part of Durango Transit helps with the bottom line.
The Trolley also benefits those who don’t use it. Folks who choose to drive and park downtown are major beneficiaries of the free trolley as well. All those warm bodies on the trolley translate into freed-up parking spaces and cleaner air for everyone.
A free and frequent Trolley is an easy decision for visitors. Those who travel to unfamiliar cities are well aware of the sometimes-steep learning curve of an unfamiliar transit system. With Durango’s many tourists and parking issues, the city decided to make it as easy as possible for people to get downtown without their cars. The 14 hotels on North Main Avenue, in a very real sense, comprise a large parking facility. Vehicles that stay parked while their owners come downtown are a benefit to the community and the trolley makes this possible.
Hotel patrons also benefit directly from the trolley. Use of the lodgers tax for transit directly benefits those who pay it. The proposed expansion of the lodger’s tax will create a steady source for transit of $350,000 - $400,000 per year. With the annual budget for transit at $2.2 million (substantially from federal funds), this additional money will provide a steady funding stream for operations as well as matching grants.
The Trolley also provides an intangible benefit for tourists. For many visiting families, the trolley is a novel, unique and real contribution to their overall experience in Durango.
In summary, the Multi Modal board supports the continuation of the current funding mechanism of the trolley without a fare.  We also support an expansion of the lodgers tax for the trolley.
– Multi Modal Advisory Board: Neil Hannum, Mike Kelly, Craig Larson, Wendy Rice, Paul Wilbert and Jenny Wrenn

Anti-tax pledge just another political scam
To the editor,
Grover Norquist, someone who has never been elected, is in control of one-half of Congress, including Congressman Tipton.

Norquist is a lobbyist who got Republicans to sign a pledge not to raise taxes. This might sound good on the surface, but look deeper. Norquist isn’t interested in helping out your personal pocket book.

Norquist has a long and cozy relationship with Republicans and their corporate cronies. Euphemistically called a “political advisor,” he is head of Americans for Tax Reform. He’s also a “conduit” associated with Jack Abramoff (you remember him, right?), and author, in 1995, of the K Street Project to get top Republicans into lobbying firms to influence government officials. (Remember Tom Delay?) So Norquist is a “very well-connected” lobbyist with lots of moneyed interests that don’t like paying taxes or having government oversight of their behaviors. (Recall the banking, mortgage and Wall Street fiascos and no government oversight?)

And if you’re a Republican official refusing to bow to this almighty man, he’ll make sure the spigot to your campaign funds from big spenders suddenly dries up.

So signing Norquist’s anti-tax pledge has nothing to do with honor – it’s just the opposite. Nor does it have anything to do with philosophy, unless “follow the money” is a philosophy.

Philosophically, you might agree with Norquist. Philosophically, you might agree with George Rockwell, head of the American Nazi Party. Or Scott Marshall, co-chair of the American Communist Party. Should we be proud if our elected official signed a pledge to one these guys? There’s no difference.
Tear off the fancy wrap and you find this pledge is another dirty Norquist scam. K Street got found out, so let’s try a different angle hair-close to extortion. But hey: it’s a free country, right? And money buys patsies who sign pledges, to heck with the economy. And you thought the new guys in Congress were different, didn’t you?
—Nancy Jacques

Hug a hospice worker this month
Dear Editor,
During the month of November, the medical profession recognizes National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, and Gov. John Hickenlooper recently proclaimed November 2011 as Hospice Month in Colorado. Alpine Hospice, serving Durango and the surrounding areas, would like to take this opportunity to salute the very special people who work in this field.
Hospice provides a unique blend of clinical, social and spiritual support services for patients and their families. This care adds quality and dignity to the lives of patients facing end-of-life illnesses. The support provided to families allows them to focus on spending quality time with their loved one rather than on care-giving details during this difficult time. Hospice is also there to support the family after their loss.
On behalf of Alpine Hospice, we would like to say thank you to hospice caregivers for the important work that they do each and every day.

– Sincerely, Pam Henkels, Director of Patient Care Services, Alpine Hospice