Bus beats driving for some in Vail Valley | VailDaily.com

Bus beats driving for some in Vail Valley

Chris Outcalt
Vail Valley, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyMinor Martinez, right, bus his bus fare as driver, Della Williamson watches on the ECO bus heading to Edwards Thursday at the Vail Transportation Center in Vail, Colorado

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado ” Tanya Johnston rides the bus everyday in Colorado’s Vail Valley. She thinks the service is great and buys a monthly bus pass so she can get from East Vail to work in Avon.

If fares went up she wouldn’t have much choice but to pay for it, Johnston said.

“It would really affect me. I can’t afford a car here, I don’t have a lot of hours (at work),” she said.

A sharp drop in sales tax revenue ” which accounts for 80 percent of the ECO Transit budget ” has forced officials to consider raising fares from $3 to $5 and changing the types of discount passes it offers.

The department is already operating on a reduced spring schedule to save money. The seven weeks of reduced service ” which includes 31 fewer trips per day than the typical summer schedule ” started in the middle of April and will save ECO Transit about $150,000.

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If sales tax is down 24 percent for the rest of the year, officials are projecting ECO will get $1.8 million less than it was planning on.

Johnston pays $60 for an unlimited 30-day pass.

“Rent is too high, I try and offset that,” she said.

The pass Johnston uses is one of the options ECO may change. The passes are being used more than officials anticipated and aren’t cost effective.

When the pass was first offered, officials figured people would use it around 44 times in a 30-day period. Many of the passes have been getting used closer to 80 times in 30 days.

If the unlimited pass was eliminated, a different discounted, per-use pass would likely take its place, officials said.

Officials are also considering doubling the cost of ECO’s two more expensive routes ” bus service from Leadville to Vail and an express route from Vail to Beaver Creek. The routes cost $5 now.

Natalia Lord would likely pay whatever ECO increased its rates to ” she doesn’t have much of a choice, either, she said.

Lord had a discounted bus pass as part of her seasonal job at Manor Vail. Now she’s looking for more work and doesn’t want to get a car to commute from Eagle-Vail.

“I hope it has a pass, it makes such a difference,” Lord said of the next job she gets. “One of my friends got a car and is already having problems, it seems like it’s more hassle than it’s worth.”

Vail Valley Medical Center buys bus passes for about 150 of its employees and that’s not going to change if the rates go up, said the hospital’s directory of security, Al Kiburas, who also handles transportation.

“It’s just one of those things,” Kiburas said. “We deal in many ways with price increases with a variety of things, but the transportation issue is important to us.”

A lot of hospital employees rely take the bus, he said.

Kiburas lives in Frisco and would gladly ride a bus to work everyday if he had the option.

“I wish they had a bus over here,” Kiburas said.

Daniela Rodriguez lives in Lake Creek and works in Avon. She said she considers paying for the bus a necessary cost, like buying groceries, and that a fare increase would be terrible.

“It doesn’t matter if it increases or not, you have to spend the money,” she said.

If Rodriguez got a car, she’d just end up spending a lot of money on gas, she said.

In an effort to help ECO with its budget, Eagle County’s commissioners decided to waive the department’s $836,000 yearly administration fee a few weeks ago.

Seven departments ” including road and bridge, the airport and housing ” have their own funds separate of the county’s general fund and pay a yearly administration fee for things like payroll, human resources and attorney services.

The commissioners lowered the fees for all seven departments this year based on the recommendations from a consultant. ECO is the only department that had its fee waived. The commissioners plan to reconsider ECO’s administrative fee during the 2010 budget process.

The ECO Transit board meets in the middle of May and will likely talk about whether to increase fares.

Staff Writer Chris Outcalt can be reached at 970-748-2931 or coutcalt@vaildaily.com.

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