Avon scraps last ride home | VailDaily.com

Avon scraps last ride home

Matt Zalaznick

Avon is again scrapping it’s 12:30 a.m. bus, a route it revived last winter after late-night hotel and bar workers complained it was the only way for them to get home.

“That’s the least productive time we have,” Avon Transportation Director Harry Taylor said.

Avon operates two local buses, the Hurd Lane and Town shuttles. The midnight route was cancelled last fall when the town –in the wake of the September 11 attacks –began making extensive budget cuts.

But shortly after the midnight shuttle stopped running, a batch of residents –many who work late shifts up at Beaver Creek – said the shuttles were the only safe way home on dark, wintry nights.

Convinced by the workers, Town Council relaunched the midnight shuttle, saying officials would take a careful look at ridership on the late-night route.

Restoring the route reportedly has cost the town between $3,000 and $5,000.

And those numbers appear to have been the doom of the midnight shuttles.

This winter, ridership for the midnight routes hovered at 1.3 riders a night. To save money, the Hurd Lane and Town routes were combined this summer into one shuttle, but ridership plunged to 1.3 riders a week, Taylor said.

When cost-per-rider gets too high, the town cancels routes.

The last local shuttle will now stop at Avon Center at 11:27 p.m.

Because of a steep drop in the amount of sales tax the town has collected, Avon’s free bus system –though popular –is leaking hundreds of thousands of dollars, even on busy routes during the daytime.

And because none of the town’s revenue sources are dedicated directly to funding the buses, about $600,000 in subsidies have been paid out of the town’s treasury to keep the shuttles running.

Some town officials, such as City Manager Bill Efting, fear continuing such heavy subsidies could deplete Avon’s reserves and badly upset the town’s bottom line.

The Town Council stirred a swarm of controversy earlier this month when it toyed with the idea of charging $1 fares on all of Avon’s buses, including a skier shuttle to Beaver Creek.

The town predicts it could collect $327,000 next year by charging fares.

But hoteliers and condo managers revolted against the idea last week, claiming that if tourists didn’t get free rides from Avon up to the slopes on Beaver Creek Mountain, they might go to other resorts.

Most ski resorts in Colorado offer tourists free transportation, they have contended.

The displeasure swayed the council into delaying any fares until after this November’s election.

The Town Council is hoping voters in November will approve a 4 percent tax on building supplies used in Avon that could be committed to the buses and, thus, avoid having to charge fares.

Matt Zalaznick covers public safety, Eagle County Courts and Avon/ Beaver Creek. He can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.

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