Despite contributing, Eagle is not set up to receive regional transportation authority improvements, Town Council members say
Last November, voters in unincorporated Eagle County, Beaver Creek, Vail, Avon, Minturn, Red Cliff and Eagle voted to establish a regional transportation authority that would implement improvements to Eagle County’s transportation systems. Eagle taxpayers voted in support of creating the authority and agreed to pay an Eagle Valley Transportation Authority sales tax of 0.5%. However, in the transportation authority’s plans for improvements, Eagle Town Council member Nick Sunday said the town is getting the short end of the deal.
Sunday serves as Eagle’s representative on the Eagle Valley Transportation Authority. He said that while the transportation authority’s initiatives are meant to create better transportation services throughout the valley, public transportation in Eagle may not see much change — if any.
The Eagle Valley Transportation Authority is still in its early stages and has a lot to work out before implementations will be made, but in its design stages, Sunday said Eagle is not projected to be included in the authority’s fare-free zone.
Sunday said that current drafts of the fare-free zone span from Vail to Edwards and include Minturn. Because Eagle contributes to the Eagle Valley Transportation Authority through sales tax, however, Sunday said Eagle residents should be able to benefit from a fare-free zone as well.
“I’ve always called it a double tax on Eagle because everywhere else is going to get free bus service,” Sunday said in a recent interview with the Vail Daily. “Eagle voted for the tax and we’ll still have to pay to use the bus.”
Support Local Journalism
Sunday said the Eagle Valley Transportation Authority benefits for other communities seem clearly defined. However, he finds they’re rather elusive for Eagle.
Sunday said there have been discussions within the Eagle Valley Transportation Authority of ways to attempt to allow Eagle taxpayers to get their money’s worth, but that no plans have actually been made.
The Eagle Valley Transportation Authority meeting on Wednesday saw some movement toward providing better service to Eagle, Gypsum and Dotsero. According to a planning update by Sage Thornbrugh, ECO Transit’s planning and development manager, ECO Transit has been working with Via Transportation, a micro-transit independent contractor, to determine the feasibility, cost and design of an on-demand service pilot (as opposed to a traditional fixed route service) within the Eagle, Gypsum and Dotsero area.
“I actually asked the question, ‘Well, didn’t Gypsum vote no?’ I understand that you’re not going to send a bus to Eagle and not to Gypsum, but we need to figure out what Eagle is going to get out of this as far as our sales tax goes. Since we said ‘yes’ to it, we need to reward Eagle somehow,” Sunday said.
One challenge the transportation authority faces in providing fare-free service to Eagle, or improved service otherwise, is ECO Transit’s driver shortage.
ECO Transit Operations Manager Jeff Wetzel created an ECO Transit Operations Report, which discussed the driver shortage. It said that in the past three months, ECO Transit interviewed 20 prospective drivers but only successfully hired seven. Currently, ECO Transit has 32 full-time drivers and three more in training, according to Wetzel’s report. However, it noted that ECO Transit continues to attempt to recruit more staff in preparation for the winter.
Along with a shortage of drivers, a slim fleet is a contributing factor to the challenge the Eagle Valley Transportation Authority and ECO Transit are facing in improving public transportation in Eagle. Jessie Cooper, ECO Transit’s fleet asset supervisor, provided a quarterly Fleet Report during the May 10 Eagle Valley Transportation Authority board meeting. ECO Transit had 22 buses in service and 20 buses out of service on average in the last 90 days according to the report. Compared to the first quarter of 2022, the first quarter of 2023 saw a 6% increase in average buses down as presented in the fleet report.
Sunday also said many might assume the sales tax funding is mostly coming from up valley, and thus down-valley transportation may not be as much of a priority. Though, he said with a substantial chunk of the workforce living in Eagle, providing benefits like fare-free lines to only those living up-valley doesn’t make much sense.
“We have over 1,600 homes approved right now and we’ve probably got another 500 kind of in the works,” Sunday said. “So, our population is going to grow immensely — and at the fastest rate in the county.”
Sunday said traffic is going to become even more of an issue in Eagle with this impending population increase. So, he hopes to see some more initiative in providing public transportation improvements for the town.
“I don’t want it to go away, and I don’t want it to be swept under the rug, so to speak,” Sunday said. “I think we need to realize this is for our residents of Eagle, and they need to get their money’s worth out of this half-cent sales tax.”
Should a solution not supply transportation improvements to Eagle, Town council member Geoffrey Grimmer said he worries about the potential of community members’ trust being lost.
“When you ask taxpayers to approve these increases of taxes on themselves, the system relies on trust and the ability to follow through on what the bill of goods is on the front end,” Grimmer said. “If you don’t, you’re setting yourself up for failure on potential future asks of the community on projects that could be really important to the quality of life for people.”
Grimmer said that while it comes down to costs and benefits for different stakeholders throughout the valley, he and Sunday hope that getting the community involved in the discussion would spike more movement in ensuring Eagle reaps benefits from its sales tax.
“I’m very open to creative solutions,” Grimmer said. “One creative solution that I’ve heard that might work would be an in-town circulator for the town of Eagle … I think that’d really be a positive thing for our town — for kids in town to be able to ride from the River Park to the grocery store to the senior center, to the ice rink — that really adds a ton of value.”
“I’m optimistic that we’re starting to think about it and hopefully we’ll come up with a solution soon,” Sunday said. “We just finalized our director position yesterday, so Tanya Allen, who was director of ECO, is now going to be director of EVTA, which is a great thing because she clearly knows what she’s doing.”
Eagle Valley Transportation Authority board meetings are held on the second Wednesdays of each month, typically at Avon Town Hall, at 12:30 p.m. Community members interested in attending or making a public comment may join the meetings in-person or on Zoom.