Business blasts bus fares
And that’s what’s happening in Avon, where, because of slumping tax revenues, the town on Aug. 1. plans to start charging folks $1 to ride its previously free shuttles and buses.
“This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” says Andre DeLucinges, general manager of Falcon Point condominiums. “Here we are trying to drum up business in Avon and we’re basically telling people we don’t need sales tax, take it to Edwards.”
What merchants, hoteliers and condominium managers in Avon fear is that the $1 fares will repel their guests, who they say are lured to the town by free buses and are more frugal than visitors to Vail and Beaver Creek.
Town Manager Bill Efting says the decision to start charging was a tough one, but a steep drop on revenues has saddled the town with heavy subsidies to keep the $1 million system running.
“Do I want to charge people to ride the bus? No,” Efting said. “But what you can’t do is bankrupt your town.”
A sluggish economy and financial jitters have forced cities and towns across Colorado to start charging for services they had been providing for free, Efting said.
The Town Council will hold a discussion on bus fares at its work session today at 4:15 p.m. in the Town Council Chambers at Town Hall. The town decided June 11 to start charging fares in August for the Town, Hurd Lane and Skier shuttles. Only riders on the Town and Hurd Lane shuttles will be eligible for a discount by purchasing a $10 coupon book good for 20 trips.
Scott Fulton, vice president of sales and marketing for Charter Sports, says that by charging bus fares, Avon may severe its crucial link to the slopes.
“Avon runs the risk of permanently defining itself to guests as an outlying area rather than a contiguous area of the resort,” says Fulton, who was instrumental in convincing the town to hold today’s work session.
Fulton says he hopes merchants and town officials can figure out a way to fund the bus system without charging riders.
“All major winter resorts provide a free ride to the slopes for their guests,” Fulton said. “Avon is only here because of Beaver Creek and Vail and I believe it should latch on. We don’t want to be what Basalt is to Aspen.”
Aside from bus fares, Avon leaders say a 4 percent use tax on all building materials used in the town would provide substantial funding for the bus system. The Town Council is expected today to decide whether put the use tax on the November ballot and ask voters to approve it.
“The buses are one of the reasons we’re looking at this use tax,” Efting said. “Where do these funds come from to provide free transportation? It’s very tough.”
A recreation amenity fee that expired in December was providing some money for transit, Efting said. And revenues from the town’s accommodation tax, which also pays for the buses, were just over $800,000 in May, Efting said.
“That isn’t going to pay for much,” he said. “Anytime something’s been free and you look at charging, there are going to be some people that aren’t happy.”
Jeff Forbes, concierge manager at the Christy Lodge, says visitors facing a $1 bus fare may just pay another $1 and spend their day –and buy their lunches and souvenirs – in Vail.
“For another dollar, they’ll go to a bigger mountain,” Forbes said. “I think this could have a huge effect.”
Mike Brumbaugh, owner of Venture Sports, says about 60 percent of his customers arrive by bus to rent skis, bikes and other recreation equipment.
He says many customers come down the hill from Beaver Creek because of the free bus.
“”Hop on the free bus and come on down.’ We say that a hundred times a day in the winter,” Brumbaugh says.
But they’ll probably stop coming if they have to spend a $1 to get down to Avon, he says.
“The free buses are one of the things that draws people to Avon,” Brumbaugh says. “But the town seems to have these knee-jerk reactions to things. If they don’t change their decision, I’ll bet business will be down even farther.”
Fulton says the bus fares will convince visitors to drive their families to Beaver Creek, which could cause heavy congestion in the roundabouts, on U.S. Highway 6 and in the resort’s day-skier parking lots.
These kinds of “add-on” charges are what most bother visitors, Fulton says.
“Avon’s winter guest is more cost-sensitive; they’re watching every penny,” Fulton says. “Kids save allowance and lawn-mowing earnings to buy T-shirts.”
Are bus fares fair?
What: Avon Town Council will discuss $1 bus fares scheduled to begin Aug. 1
When: 4:15 p.m. today
Where: Council Chambers, Town Hall, 400 Benchmark Road
Matt Zalaznick covers public safety, Eagle County Courts and Avon/ Beaver Creek. He can be reached at 949-0555, next. 606, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.