Fewer buses, higher fares in Vail Valley?
VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – Buses are going to be harder to catch in Colorado’s Vail Valley, and rides will cost more under a plan approved Wednesday by the county’s transit agency board of directors.
The agency, ECO Transit, is facing two harsh realities: Money from a dedicated sales tax is settling back to 2004 levels, and ridership is falling back to roughly 2007 levels. The result is roughly $2 million in budget shortfalls this year and next. The Eagle County Commissioners are likely to cover the budget hole this year, but the transit board was asked to find $2 million in cuts for 2010.
ECO Transit staff members have been working for several weeks to cover the shortage. The final plan doesn’t make anyone happy, but most board members agreed it’s the best solution available right now.
The package the board approved Wednesday – Vail representative Kevin Foley cast the sole dissenting vote – will get most of its savings from service cuts. Once the cuts are in place, buses will run about 30 percent less than they do now.
But, staff member Kelly Collier said, the routes being cut carried about 6 percent of ECO Transit’s passengers last year.
“I just hope most of those 6 percent use the remaining service,” board member Larry Brooks said.
While no one was happy about the cutbacks, Brooks said the economic slump could present an opportunity for the agency.
“We’re doing something now that we ought to always do,” Brooks said. “Why did we ever spend 30 percent of our service hours on 6 percent of our riders?”
The service cuts will account for most of the savings in the plan. The rest will come from fare increases. The transit agency hasn’t raised fares since 2004. Some of those increases are going to be significant. For instance, a monthly pass on a “premium” route will go from the current $135 to $200. A regular pass is going from $60 to $100.
Foley said that increase is simply too much.
“These increases are pretty drastic, and they’re hitting the workers the hardest,” Foley said. “I think it should go to $80 for a monthly pass and $160 to $170 for the premium routes.” Foley said dipping into the agency’s reserves could cover the shortfall from the higher fares.
“But even with these recommendations we still have a $400,000 shortfall next year,” board member Jeff Shroll said.
Board member Ron Wolfe said this two years’ of budget shortages are part of a long-term problem, and one that isn’t going away any time soon.
“This is an imperfect solution, but we keep coming back to this one,” Wolfe said. “This is our best shot at fixing a problem that’s got to be fixed. It’s painful, it’s ugly, it’s necessary and it’s efficient.”
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or email@example.com.