Former Grand County councilwoman Audrey Graham believes in public transportation. But, she believes, it can occur organically as neighbors give one another a ride as necessary.
It all starts with volunteers placing purple benches in their yard. It grows as people needing rides signal that they need one by sitting on the benches. And, it flourishes as drivers having room in their cars stop to give a ride.
вЂњIt is a simple, homegrown, non-governmental solution to the lack of public transportation,вЂќ Graham said. вЂњThis is about individual responsibility and community self-reliance.вЂќ
Graham has a purple bench in her front yard on Murphy Lane. SheвЂ™s used it three times to catch a ride into town.
вЂњI knew someone was going to the same events and I was going to be picked up,вЂќ Graham said. вЂњTwo of those times another person stopped to offer a ride.вЂќ
Graham said a third of the local population canвЂ™t drive due to age, disability or lack of a car.
вЂњA community our size cannot afford a local bus system,вЂќ she said. вЂњThe resource is already here and no tax dollars are needed.вЂќ
She and other citizens who see the purple bench idea as a public transportation solution have been meeting regularly for the past few months. They acquired a WabiSabi grant to provide education about the idea. They are now working with Dove Hansen, a Grand County High School student, to create a bench design that would safe and inexpensive for private homeowners to build.
вЂњHomeowners could decide on their own to buy and build a bench on their property,вЂќ said Tom Brown, a purple bench committee member. вЂњA good design will give them an option to have a bench that is sturdy and easy to build.вЂќ
Bill and Damon Foy attended the purple bench meeting held at the library Thursday, Jan. 24. As owners of Rising Star taxi cab service they shared their concerns that the purple bench concept poses risks to both drivers and passengers.
вЂњYouвЂ™re putting yourself in danger by picking up the person on the bench, or putting yourself in danger by getting in the car,вЂќ Bill Foy said. вЂњYou should just paint a big red target on it for the pedophiles.вЂќ
Graham emphasized that in order for the program to work, both riders and drivers need to use good judgment.
вЂњNo one is forcing you to stop and pick up that person. No one is forcing you to get in the car,вЂќ Graham said.
The Foys presented a copy of a state traffic code and highlighted this excerpt: вЂњA person may not sit, stand, or loiter on or near a roadway for the purpose of soliciting from the occupant of a vehicle (a) a ride.вЂќ
вЂњIt would be encouraging people to be unsafe and do something illegal,вЂќ Foy said.
However, county attorney Andrew Fitzgerald said that the traffic code was in reference to loitering and would not be applicable to purple benches sitting on private property.
вЂњIf someone wants to put a purple bench in their yard, they are giving that person a license or inviting that person onto their property,вЂќ Fitzgerald said. вЂњThe owner can revoke that license at any time.вЂќ
Fitzgerald said the only time a deputy may arrest someone is if someone sat on the bench all day not looking for a ride and the property owner wanted the person gone.
вЂњThen it would be criminal trespass or loitering,вЂќ he said.
Sheriff Steve White said that he had to look at it from a public safety point of view.
вЂњI do have concerns about teenaged kids being picked up and drivers being safe,вЂќ he said.
Fitzgerald said that he saw some вЂњreally big public safety issues.вЂќ
вЂњYou can get in the car with someone and there is an accident. If they donвЂ™t have insurance, youвЂ™re not covered,вЂќ Fitzgerald said. вЂњWhen you get in the car, you donвЂ™t know if theyвЂ™re a good driver or intoxicated. That person getting in the car is assuming a lot of problems.вЂќ
He expressed concern that if this becomes prevalent within the community, it may be seen as a safe form of transportation, even though it is unregulated.
вЂњThere is an assumption when they see that type of structure set up that it is safe. It may give people a false sense of security. There should be an assumption of risk by the person being picked up,вЂќ Fitzgerald said. вЂњAt some point if this is going on and someone considers this safe and regulated, you might see the government step in and put warnings up, or even if the government doesnвЂ™t otherwise get involved.вЂќ
Graham acknowledged there are risks, but stated that fear shouldnвЂ™t prevent us from helping each other.
“We as a community can figure this out,вЂќ Graham said. вЂњWe need to step forward with solutions and sometimes take chances.вЂќ
Vivian Klocko, a citizen who attended the meeting to learn more, summed up why she thought the purple bench concept would work.
вЂњPeople give people rides because people are kind,” Klocko said.