Avon ski bus may be scrapped
A financial slump this year drove the town to consider charging riders on its bus routes, which run through town and up to the mountain. While the Avon Town Council appears to have abandoned the idea of charging fares on the buses that circle town, it still has the skier shuttle in its cross hairs as a way to save money.
“Maybe we don’t need the skier shuttle,” Councilman Brian Sipes said at Tuesday’s council meeting, adding he’d rather get rid of the route than charge fares.
“These people are paying to stay here and spend money in town so they can ski at Beaver Creek. We have to consider that,” Sipes said. “A $1 they spend on the bus is a $1 they don’t spend at the Outback.”
The skier shuttle stops at Christy Sports, the Christie Lodge, the Comfort Inn and the Avon Recreation Center, among other locales, on its way through Avon. The shuttle costs the town approximately $300,000 a year to operate.
The idea of scuttling the ski shuttle appeared popular with a few other council members. Even without the ski bus, skiers and snowboarders could still get free rides to the slopes by taking either the In-Town Shuttle or Hurd Lane Shuttle to meet the green Beaver Creek buses that run from the parking lots on U.S. Highway 6 to the village.
But Councilman Mac McDevitt Tuesday recommended charging $1 a ride on the skier shuttle.
“This bus goes outside the town and the major beneficiary, outside visitors in town lodges, is Vail Resorts and Beaver Creek,” McDevitt said, implying the ski company has a financial interest in supporting Avon’s shuttle because it carries skiers to their mountain.
Some have argued charging fares would encourage more skiers to drive from their accommodations in Avon to the Beaver Creek parking lot. But McDevitt said getting rid of the skier shuttle would have the same result because people – especially families –will not want to ride one bus to the lot, then get off and wait in the cold for another bus.
But whatever happens in the future, it appears the skier shuttle will remain free and in service this ski season.
The idea of charging bus riders sparked a minor revolt among Avon business owners, who warned the fares would drive tourists away from the town. Merchants argued Avon would become the only ski resort without free buses.
Though no merchants attended Tuesday’s meeting, Councilwoman Debbie Buckley reminded her colleagues of the strong sentiments expressed against the fares at a town hall meeting earlier this year.
“People came and talked to us and made it adamantly clear they didn’t want us to have our hands in their pockets,” Buckley said.
But that opposition may have softened. Scott Fulton, vice president of marketing for Charter Sports in Avon, said merchants didn’t want the town to panic and start charging fares because of one lousy ski season. If there is heavy snow this season and the town’s revenues are still down, merchants might be more open to the fares, he said.
“We wanted them to exhaust all resources and ideas before they start charging,” Fulton said.
But Buckley, speaking for discount travelers who she said are sometimes forgotten in the valley, said fares shouldn’t be an option. Tourists who stay in Avon are traveling on a tighter budget than those who stay up the hill in Beaver Creek or in Vail, she said.
“These are people who have been saving all year for this vacation,” Buckley said. “I think the average family that comes to Avon is on a budget. They’re staying at the Comfort Inn, not at the Hyatt or the Ritz-Carlton, and for a family for four, $8-a-day for the bus is lot on a budget.”
Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at email@example.com.
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