By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
part 2 of 2
Jon Caldara lives on Arapahoe Avenue in Boulder. Every fifteen minutes or so, an RTD bus rumbles by his house. Caldara has never seen more than five people on the bus.
"Usually, there's two," he says. "We're talking about a bus that pollutes like a dozen cars, sucks up fuel like ten cars and does incredible amounts of road damage. It would be better environmentally if they just gave those two people cars. In fact, it would be better for traffic. I've come head to head with buses on streets like Arapahoe, and they just don't fit the way we live in Boulder."
Caldara, who operates a theatrical lighting business from his home, argues that most transit agencies are committed to an outmoded hub-and-spoke model of transportation, using behemoth buses designed to haul suburbanites and factory workers to a central business area--despite the fact that most commuter trips these days are from suburb to suburb. He is fond of comparing RTD's service to that provided by The Hop, a small bus powered by natural gas that circulates between Boulder's Pearl Street Mall, the university campus and a local shopping center. The Hop costs considerably less to operate, he says, yet has more ridership than any RTD route in Boulder.
Smaller is better, Caldara figures. He is enthusiastic about certain aspects of RTD's $57 million alternative service plan, which would add vans and small buses as neighborhood circulators and increase accessibility to Park-N-Ride lots, promoting suburb-to-suburb service. Yet other RTD boardmembers regard the alternative plan not as a replacement for big buses but as a feeder network for light rail, a way to bring people to the trains. "This is not just about putting down tracks; it's about getting people to the system," says Anderson.
Caldara insists that high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lanes on freeways, such as RTD's Downtown Express on north I-25, make more sense for Denver's rapid-transit needs than light rail, particularly since people can choose various types of HOV carriers and get off the system without difficulty. Light rail may "look better," but it isn't necessarily a cleaner deal; even by RTD's own estimates, the southern route will reduce auto emissions by only one-tenth of 1 percent.
"Light rail is seductive," Caldara says. "It's downright sexy. But it's also remarkably expensive and inflexible. It's fine for the contractors and the politicians who want to build monuments, but it's not good for people who want some help with their commute."
At present, RTD and DRCOG are studying different modes of transport in several proposed rapid-transit corridors stemming from downtown, including possible light rail, commuter rail (passenger trains using existing tracks) and HOV links. Caldara suspects the studies will reflect some committee members' bias in favor of light rail. "Let's just say some people are concerned that the studies might be rigged--like an All-Star wrestling match," he says.
The light-rail boosters on the board tend to dismiss such heresies. After all, Caldara is one of seven board newcomers elected last November, four of whom ran unopposed for their $3,000-a-year posts. With the exception of maverick Gloria Holliday, the group has been characterized as a bunch of ideologues allied with the conservative Independence Institute in Golden--particularly since two of them, David Bishop and Daniel Gallegos, have joined with McCroskey in suing RTD, seeking a $5 million rebate to taxpayers.
McCroskey, a senior fellow at the Independence Institute, says any talk of the think tank's influence on the new members is nonsense. "We did have meetings with them, and I spoke to them," he says. "But the notion of the Wizard of Oz sitting up there directing these people is baloney."
Bishop seems particularly amused by the speculation; although he is a member of the institute, he says he's paying for the lawsuit out of his own pocket. "It gave me a big chuckle when the newspapers printed those big stories last January about how ideological the new boardmembers were," he says. "All of a sudden we have `people with agendas' on the board. Well, everybody on that board has agendas. They all do."
In fact, the new members appear to have little in common aside from their shared skepticism about light rail. While Caldara argues for investing in the alternative service plan rather than light rail, Bishop questions the staggering amount of money being sought for both projects. "Nobody suggests that we're spending too much to begin with," he says. "That very seldom gets into the discussion."
Over the past year, Bishop, a research analyst at Lockheed and advocate of more transit privatization, has become a voice crying in the wilderness at RTD meetings. He periodically challenges what he calls the "rails to everywhere" crowd as to why the metro area should subsidize a transit system that, in his view, primarily benefits downtown real estate interests. Last month he was the only director to vote against the 1996 budget, after being rebuffed in his efforts to make across-the-board cuts. (The budget had already been "reduced" by 2.5 percent, but Bishop viewed the first trim as mere number-shuffling involving deferred costs of complying with standards for disabled passengers and other illusory savings.) And he has pestered RTD staff for detailed records of agency expenses.