The number of people opting to take the Front Range Express bus to Denver hit new highs last week, as customers sought refuge from record-high gas prices.
FREX sold around 500 rides a day last week, an 85 percent increase in sales as compared to October 2004.
At the same time, regular unleaded gas cost $2.56 on average in Colorado Springs -- an all-time record high, according to AAA, and some 38 percent higher than the price of gas one year ago.
"If [FREX] gets people to stop driving, it'll be doing good," said Damian Meldgaard of Denver as he waited to catch a ride home from Colorado Springs on Monday. Meldgaard says he prefers public transportation to his car, which, he said, "just collects rust."
City officials remarked that growing numbers of drivers sick of high gas prices and highway congestion have driven the surge in FREX ridership.
Launched in October with $5 million in federal funding, FREX charges $6 to ride from Colorado Springs to Denver. It will cease to operate in October 2007 unless the city can find new funding to keep it going.
But transportation planners, looking at the larger picture, say the bus service already has been a success in paving the way for train service that one day may extend from Wyoming south to New Mexico. The recent surge proves there's a market for light rail trains to Denver and beyond, said Sherre Ritenour, Division Manager of Colorado Springs Transit Services.
"FREX has demonstrated [light rail] will happen," Ritenour said.
Light rail could come soon to Colorado Springs, as the federal government now is studying a plan that would revive the city's old railway depot.
That's good news for bus customers such as Carol Sagert, who rode FREX for the first time this week. Saying that she will "stay in the Springs" if the bus line disappears and gas prices stay where they are, Sagert readily agreed that a train would provide a popular alternative.
"You'll have lots of people if you put light rail in."
-- Dan Wilcock
For a complete FREX schedule and ticket information, call 636-3739 or visit www.FrontRangeExpress.com.