Eagle County’s transit system has ideas, but no funding, for expanding service
By the numbers
$9 million: Approximate annual budget of Eagle County’s ECO Transit service.
$6.75 million: Portion of that budget funded by a 0.5 percent county sales tax.
$2.25 million: Portion of the ECO budget funded by fare box collections.
$5.23 million: Operations-only budget for the town of Vail’s bus system in 2018. That number doesn’t include equipment costs.
Sources: ECO Transit, town of Vail
EAGLE COUNTY — As the population grows in the lower Eagle River Valley, there’s going to be an increased demand for public services. But, for the moment, transit service won’t grow with the population.
Eagle County’s ECO Transit system recently completed a 300-page transit development plan that looked at ridership, service levels, budgets and other elements of the system.
That plan identified a number of needs — including a circulator system for the lower valley.
But ECO Transit Director Chris Lubbers said that plan doesn’t identify ways to pay for added or expanded service.
“The intent (of the plan) wasn’t to design new service, but examine existing service and suggest improvements,” he said.
Lubbers said more and better bus stops and adding park-and-ride lots and circulator service for downvalley communities would be nice to have. But, he added, all those things would require new funding. And that means somehow adding to the county’s current 0.5 percent sales tax that funds both ECO Transit and ECO Trails.
Expanding that revenue source is going to take still more work.
Lubbers said a full-blown master plan for the county’s transit system would include a list of projects and cost estimates.
Eagle County Commissioner Jill Ryan said county officials are starting to work on a number of those questions, including:
• Should bus service be free? Fares now make up 25 percent of ECO Transit’s budget.
• If more frequent service is added, then where should those routes run?
• Is circulator service needed in downvalley communities?
Ryan added that planning could also include a look at a system of variable fares for ECO Transit — whether a trip from Eagle to Avon or Vail should cost the same as a trip from Eagle to Gypsum.
Ryan said that next level of planning will allow county officials “to get really clear on what the community wants.”
Planning could also include whether or not to find a way for downvalley communities to contribute to local service.
Eagle Town Board member Kevin Brubeck said that group earlier this year saw a presentation about the current study.
“It was an impressive presentation,” Brubeck said. “But there are limitations.”
Brubeck noted that one of the biggest limitations is in ridership — there isn’t enough demand for service to justify the cost of adding downvalley circulator routes.
Even partnering with the county, Brubeck said the town of Eagle’s budget doesn’t currently have room to pay for circulator service.
“We’ll continue to explore opportunities — probably in some kind of public-private partnership,” Brubeck said.
There’s a need to help people who are disabled or don’t have cars get around the community, Brubeck said. And Eagle is talking about bike-share and other systems. But, he added, any possible non-car transportation solutions have to be cost-effective.
“We don’t want to put an expensive system in place to serve just a few people,” he said.
Ryan said better transit will also fit into the county’s Climate Action Plan goals by getting more people out of their cars.
Ryan said the county is working now with a political consultant. But putting together a specific plan for asking taxpayers for additional ECO Transit funding is going to take some time.
“We’re probably looking at a 2020 or 2022 (ballot question), at the earliest,” she said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 970-748-2930.