A plan to make buses free
Friends and neighbors, it is time to increase the transit portion of the Eagle County sales tax and make ECO Transit free to the end user.
To begin, according to the Eagle County Web site, the county sales tax rate is 1.5 percent. In 1996, as the result of a vote by Eagle County residents, Eagle County started collecting 0.5 percent of the 1.5 percent sales tax for the sole purpose of improving and maintaining trails and transit. The remaining 1 percent is used for general fund expenditures and capital projects. You know the $100 meal that tourists routinely eat in this valley? Well, currently the county tax is $1.50 on that meal with 50 cents going to transit and trials. I would strongly suggest simply doubling the transit and trails portion of this tax. The meal would have a tax of $2 with $1 going to transit. Currently, ECO gets roughly three-quarters of its revenue from this sales tax and the remainder from the fee box on the bus. Doubling the tax and ripping the fee boxes out of the busses will still amount to more money than ECO currently receives.
Why increase this tax? Simple. When you review the rider surveys for ECO Transit you notice that they move more workers than guests. In an era where finding workers in the valley is difficult for business owners, the current bus system is actually penalizing both workers and business owners. Someone has to pay that fee. Either the business owner has to spend money to buy the pass for their employee or the employee has to pay for the privilege of working up here. Increasing the tax and ripping out the fee boxes shifts the vast portion of the burden to the proper target ” namely the tourists that would now pay $2 on a $100 tab instead of $1.50.
How is this fiscally responsible? Well, if the worker or local business owner no longer has to shell out money for a bus pass, they just might spend it around the valley, potentially adding hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to the local economy instead of sending it out of state for bus parts and fuel. If the bus is “free” to the end user then it now becomes cheaper for four adults to ride the bus from Avon to Vail and back instead of parking at the Vail garages. Do you realize it now cost more to ride the bus instead of to drive and park? Yup!
Restaurants, shops and lodging would begin to advertise being on a free bus line. It would be easier for our guests to move around. No longer would Mom or Dad have to dig for exact change to ride the bus while also managing kids, skis, runny noses, etc. Now you simply get on and go. ECO Transit gets out of the business of handling cash and passes and simply goes back to driving the bus. Finally, as more revenue is realized from the tax, more revenue will come to ECO Trails and bike and foot paths around the valley can get completed faster and cheaper in “today’s” dollars.
Be prepared. You will hear the knee jerk “no new taxes!” That means that YOU should continue to foot the bill for you or your workers instead of our affluent guests who caused this impact. “Locals eat out, too!” Yes they do. However, the local would have to eat 60 $100 meals per month to spend as much on the increased tax as they would to currently purchase a $60 monthly bus pass. Locals will save money ” period!
There are many issues with mass transit in this valley. Are the routes correct? Should the county also take over the local systems of Vail, Beaver Creek and Avon? Those are discussions that should take place, but they all pale in comparison to the simple fact that the current fee box system penalizes workers and local business owners and needs to be targeted, as an increased tax, to the guest at large.
It is time to take yet another step to being a world-class destination and make the ECO Transit system free to the end user. Just get on and go.