Every day, Marc Snyder notices the endless streams of people from all walks of life, waiting for buses that take them to work or back home.
He sees them come and go, by choice or absolute necessity, and he appreciates the value of a dependable transit service. But now Snyder looks at those riders and has more complicated thoughts.
Snyder was just elected mayor of Manitou Springs, after six years on its City Council. He won't officially take the reins from Eric Drummond until January, but Snyder already feels the added responsibility as he watches Colorado Springs battle to balance its budget.
Snyder, a 48-year-old attorney with broad involvements in and knowledge of entities like the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments and the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, wants Manitou residents to enjoy the benefits of living adjacent to Colorado Springs. But those benefits are dwindling, and Snyder can't ignore how his 5,000 or so constituents are enduring the same consequences as their big-city neighbors.
"To be honest, there are no easy answers here," Snyder says. "The main problem in Colorado Springs is the disconnect between Council and the voters. And their decisions have repercussions for everyone in the area."
Many of Manitou's residents work and play in Colorado Springs. They drive the streets, attend events and pay the sales taxes, and their kids play in Parks and Rec programs. Also, many people ride those buses.
Representing Manitou on the PPRTA, Snyder has tried for several years to learn how many Manitoids regularly use the bus service. The number is elusive, because Manitou's highly used Route 3 also includes many west-side riders. But Snyder believes Manitou's daily riders have to number in the range of 500 to 750 — or 10 to 15 percent of the city's population.
Yet, with Colorado Springs cutting out all bus service on nights and weekends, those Route 3 customers with unpredictable working hours must find other ways to get around.
"It works both ways, too," Snyder says. "There are all the Manitou people who go to the Springs, and we have the many employees here who live there. So it's a double hit for us, even though Manitou is one of the top three routes in the entire area as far as profitability and ridership. The bus service we've had — from the developmentally disabled to people putting their bikes on the front racks — it adds so much to our community.
"But we already have terrible parking issues, especially in the summer, and this can't do anything but make it worse. There are literally people whose lives will become unmanageable."
Transit isn't the only arena in which Colorado Springs' troubles impact Manitou. Hundreds of Manitou kids and adults participate in sports, and as Snyder puts it, "If fees go up and people can't afford it, what does that accomplish?"
Snyder believes cooperative regional efforts "generally benefit Manitou, being able to get in with the big boys. For instance, we can be a part of buying asphalt with them, and since the group is buying so much, it saves us thousands of dollars."
But the view changes when the Springs makes cuts, such as funding the convention and visitors bureau, "because that's hurting all tourism." Also, with Colorado Springs closing its swimming pools, Manitou's pool will see more demand.
Manitou, by the way, faces budget cuts of its own, but not as severe. Its property tax rate (nearly 16 mills) is three times higher than what Colorado Springs homeowners pay — yet nobody complains. And sales tax collections in Manitou were down only 3.7 percent for the year through August, Snyder says, far less painful than the big city's double-digit percentage drop.
"We've been lucky during the downturn, because we've held our own very well," Snyder says. "But a struggling Colorado Springs and a declining region don't do us any good. ... I've even had several people on the west side ask if they can annex into Manitou. It's just an example of the despair a lot of people are feeling."
Manitou is not gloating. It needs Colorado Springs to succeed. It needs those buses, especially on nights and weekends. It needs conventions and events, and more visitors to the area.
As Colorado Springs suffers, Manitou Springs and everyone else suffers.