Scuttle the ski shuttle?
Town leaders since last summer have been grappling with saving money on Avon’s free bus system, which, in uncertain financial times, is costing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to operate. After the Avon Town Council shelved an unpopular plan to charge fares on all its routes, council members now have the skier bus in their cross hairs, though they say they won’t tinker with the route this ski season.
“We’re doing it this year. We’re not going to do it next year,” Councilman Ron Wolfe said. “We’re not spending $190,000 to get the bus up the hill. There has to be a new solution.”
Two alternatives the town is considering are charging fares on the ski bus or canceling the route altogether because Beaver Creek already operates buses that run from the parking lots up to the slopes.
Fares still appear to be an unpopular option.
“I believe we should charge for the buses, but not with a fee,” Councilman Pete Buckley said. “Rather, it should be built in to the lodging bill.”
That way, hotels could still advertise free buses to lure visitors to Avon. As part of the deal, visitors could get a free token to use Avon’s Recreation Center, Buckley suggested.
“They will still get charged for using buses,” Buckley said, “but guests won’t have to reach into their pockets for money.”
Adding the fare to hotel bills has been discussed with hoteliers, but has received a mixed response, Avon Town Manager Larry Brooks said.
Some hotels and lodges have told the town to charges fares, while others are adamantly against it, Brooks said.
“We’re not getting a consensus from the lodging community on how to address this,” Brooks said.
Should the skier bus be dumped, council members said it’s still important to provide a way for Avon’s visitors and residents to at least get to the Beaver Creek buses in the resort’s skier parking lots.
One plan would be to replace the ski bus with a shuttle between town and the parking lots; another is to run more buses on Avon’s in-town routes during the busiest hours when skiers are getting on and coming off the hill, Brooks said.
Wolfe, however, said Avon shouldn’t be running buses outside the town limits.
“It’s a stretch of our responsibility as a town,” Wolfe said.
If Beaver Creek is interested in Avon continuing its ski shuttle, the resort should help pay for it because the bus is bringing customers to its resort, Councilman Brian Sipes.
“There’s an economic benefit to the ski company,” he said. “They should share the cost.”
The ideal solution to the bus dilemma is the gondola Vail Resorts plans to build to carry skiers from Avon up to the slopes, Sipes said.
“Hopefully, in 10 years, the bus system will function by collecting people in town and dropping them off at the gondola,” Sipes said.
Whatever happens, Brooks said, the Town Council needs to make a decision this summer.
“It’s a conclusion we need to arrive at this summer,” Brooks said, “so we can tell everybody what we’re doing next ski season.”