ECO mulls fare hikes, bus pass changes
Eagle County, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” At some point this year, it may cost more to ride an ECO Transit bus.
Officials are considering increasing bus fares and changing the type of discount passes ECO Transit offers in order to cope with declining sales tax revenue.
Eighty percent of the department’s budget comes from sales tax, and the sharp dip in county sales tax revenue is forcing officials to try to figure out what to do in case the drop continues.
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.
“We want to try and set up a scenario where we’re functioning in the black,” said Commissioner Sara Fisher, who is also a member of the ECO board.
A trio of local officials spent six weeks studying ECO’s financial problems and presented some cost-saving recommendations Wednesday. The group ” comprised of Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll, Vail Transportation Manager Mike Rose and Avon Town Manager Larry Brooks ” presented their ideas as an ECO Transit business plan.
Doubling the fares on ECO’s two more expensive routes ” bus service from Leadville to Vail and an express route from Vail to Beaver Creek ” was one suggestion. The routes cost $5 now. Increasing the price of the rest of ECO’s routes from $3 to $5 was another option the group presented.
Eliminating the unlimited riding, 30-day bus pass was also suggested. 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, which cost $60, have been getting used closer to 80 times in 30 days.
“The per ride rate is ridiculously low,” Fisher said. “It’s been such a deal that people are virtually riding for 80 cents a ride.”
If the unlimited pass was eliminated, a different discounted, per-use pass would likely take its place, said Kelley Collier, ECO’s assistant director.
The group also found about $65,000 of savings within the budget, which included eliminating some money for advertising and recruiting.
The ECO board is only an advisory board, and the commissioners would make any final decisions on changing fares.
“I think we lost sight of the business component and sustainability of the decisions we were making,” Fisher said. “We were more in reactionary mode.”
The department is already operating a reduced spring schedule in order to save money. The seven weeks of reduced service ” which includes 31 fewer trips per day than the typical summer schedule ” started this weekend and will save ECO Transit about $150,000, officials said.
The commissioners also spared the ECO budget another $336,000 Tuesday by waiving part of its yearly administration fee. The board had already agreed to give ECO a $500,000 break on the $836,000 fee.
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 board will likely revisit the possible fare increases next month.
Staff Writer Chris Outcalt can be reached at 970-748-2931 or firstname.lastname@example.org.