Eagle County’s ECO Transit bus system could see significant changes by next winter | VailDaily.com

Eagle County’s ECO Transit bus system could see significant changes by next winter

Aside from making ECO Tranist bus routes more specific, consultant Geoff Slater, of Nelson Nygaard, recommended improving information to riders of all four of the valley’s transit systems — ECO, Vail, Avon and Beaver Creek — including real-time route information.

VAIL — Some big changes may be coming next ski season to Eagle County's ECO Transit bus service.

During a Tuesday, Feb. 20, joint meeting between the Vail Town Council and Eagle County Commissioners, a group from the county ran through several recommendations for ways to make the county's service — as well as service in Beaver Creek, Vail and Avon — easier to use. Any changes must be approved by the ECO Transit Board of Directors.

Analysis began in early 2017, and the recommendations were presented by consultant Geoff Slater, of Nelson Nygaard.

Ease of use

Slater has recommended splitting service on both U.S. Highway 6 and along Interstate 70 into distinct local and express routes.

The recommendations also include making fare paying easier.

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Aside from making routes more specific, one of the biggest changes, the recommendations also include improving information to riders of all four of the valley's transit systems — ECO, Vail, Avon and Beaver Creek — including real-time route information.

That could be done with a phone app, Slater said, although technology at this point doesn't allow one app to provide both information and a method of payment.

"You have a lot of visitors," Slater said. "They expect to have real-time information."

Coordinating the transit services is done elsewhere, Slater said, showing officials a transit map of the Quad Cities region of Iowa and Illinois. There, all four cities — Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa and Rock Island and Moline in Illinois — have four transit systems, with all four sharing an online information service.

More service

The recommendations also include adding winter-season service. The biggest changes would be in timing. Slater recommends starting service about an hour earlier than the current route start times of about 5:30 a.m. and extending the last bus from Vail until 2 a.m.

Route frequency would also increase, to 20-minute frequency from the current 30 minutes during the winter. Westbound service starting in Vail would also be increased.

Slater's report also encourages ECO to extend its service from Minturn from the U.S. Forest Service parking lot all the way into Vail. Buses from Leadville would operate all service to South Frontage Road in Vail.

The recommendations also include adding service to and from Red Cliff.

To cover the increase in costs of winter-season service, Slater said some summer service will be scaled back somewhat.

Service to neighborhoods could also be bolstered by working with ride-sharing and taxi companies to get riders from their homes to bus stops.

Fares

The current ECO Transit ride is $4 on all routes except Leadville. That route is $7 per ride. All rides are paid either in cash or with a pass. Slater recommended reducing fares to $4 system-wide, or implementing a sliding fare, with shorter routes paying less and longer routes paying more.

To do that, ECO would have to update its fare payment system.

ECO Transit Director Chris Lubbers said the service has already started work on a cashless fare system and just reduced the cost of its most popular 30-day pass.

Commissioner Jill Ryan said most of the recommendations could be implemented without any changes to the agency's budget. ECO is funded through a 0.5 percent countywide sales tax. Fares make up about 25 percent of the agency's operating budget.

Slater added, "There's a lot of opportunity beyond the (current) budget."

Any changes to ECO's sales tax would have to be approved by voters. Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry said there aren't any plans to take a proposal to the voters this year.

Vail's officials were pleased to hear about the recommended changes, from schedules to information.

Mike Rose, who for years has managed the town's transit system and parking structures, said working better between systems can be done, as long as there's the will from elected officials.

"As long as the town and county want to do this, we can do anything," Rose said.

That will seems to be building, but will take a sustained effort.

"We really need to get the four (transit agencies) in a room to talk about the future of bus transportation," council member Jenn Bruno said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com and @scottnmiller.

See the ideas

County officials and consultants will present recommendations for changes to the ECO Transit systems at local town council and other public meetings. The remaining schedule is:

• Tuesday, Feb. 21: Minturn.

• Tuesday, Feb. 27: Eagle, Gypsum and Avon.

• Thursday, March 15: Edwards.

For more information, go to http://www.eaglecountytransit.com.