Free buses wins fans in Eagle County | VailDaily.com
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Free buses wins fans in Eagle County

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado
Daily file photoThe county bus system says it would need a small sales tax to eliminate fares and expand routes.
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EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” It seems that some Eagle County residents like the idea of a free bus system, and county officials are thinking up ways to make it happen.

ECOTransit officials are pondering a sales tax ranging from a sixth of a cent to a half-cent to generate enough money to cover the loss of fare revenue and pay for growth of the system.

Based on previous years’ growth, bus ridership will grow by at least 27 percent each year, and a free system would probably attract even more riders, County Engineer Eva Wilson said.



To keep the system running, add new local routes, and charge no bus fare would cost the county about $6.2 million.

However, that estimate does not include the other costs that will come with ECOTransit growth, such as new bus stops or building a park-and-ride, ECOTransit Director Harry Taylor said.



Wilson said she received “overwhelmingly positive” feedback from residents about a free bus system, and using a sales tax to pay for it. The response was not only from bus riders, but also business owners who wanted free buses for their employees to get to work, she said.

Without a free system and new sales tax revenue, the county is already struggling to keep up with the cost of growth, officials said.

Also, the county wants to expand the existing bus routes, adding local routes to Edwards, Eagle, Gypsum and Minturn.



Meanwhile, ECOTransit is struggling to find bus drivers to fill positions open now and for busier winter service.

Seasonal guest worker visas, or H-2B visas, are in short supply this season after U.S. Congress drastically limited the number of visas available.

Taylor said the bus system has been hit hard by the visa situation ” he is 40 percent short on drivers at the moment, and it will get worse in the winter, he said.

Right now ECOTransit is trying to fill 14 open bus driver positions for the winter, and recruiters are looking as far as Alaska and the East Coast.

Taylor said he is trying to recruit workers from eastern state and national parks that have summer seasons, and Alaskan fishing industry workers here on student worker visas. Cruise ship workers are another possibility, he said.

“We’ve also advertised heavily in Denver, and are recruiting people in Colorado Springs for people recently employed by the military,” Taylor said. “We’re optimistic we’ll fill the spots.”

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.


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