Skier shuttle still on the table
The latest stakeholder to help fund Avon’s embattled skier shuttle has offered to pay $50,000 – no strings attached.
Beaver Creek Resort has offered to contribute $50,000, in exchange for the use of the Confluence site, just west of Avon Road and north of the Eagle River and U.S. Highway 6, for employee parking throughout the ski season, said Larry Brooks, Avon’s town manager.
“Beaver Creek isn’t contributing to the skier shuttle (directly), but to Avon for parking privileges,” Brooks said. “We can use that money for whatever we need, which could be for the skier shuttle.”
It’s not a done deal yet, however, he said. The Eagle County Board of County Commissioners must approve a recommendation made by the ECO Transit board of directors the county contribute $100,000 to the shuttle service. If the commissioners do not approve ECO Transit’s recommendation, Avon plans to run the skier shuttle in-town only, dropping off skiers at the East Lot of Beaver Creek.
“If ECO is rejected by the county commissioners, then we’re back to where we started,” Brooks said. “Vail Associates and Beaver Creek are the next list of stakeholders for funding, to help keep these costs down.”
Town leaders since last summer have been grappling with how to save money on Avon’s bus system, which is costing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to operate.
The free skier shuttle, which picks skiers and snowboarders up at Avon condos and hotels on a loop around town and takes them up to Beaver Creek, loses about $200,000 a year – money the town is no longer willing to lose, said Brooks. The shuttle costs the town $193,440 to carry 178,688 riders every ski season, he said.
By comparison, the town spends only $181,427 every year to carry 273,855 riders on its in-town routes. If the county took over the skier shuttle, it would save Avon about $100,000, assuming the town still was responsible for the maintenance of the buses, Brooks said.
A buck a ride?
Two alternatives the town has been 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.
“We want it to remain free, providing the other partners come in and contribute and split the costs,” Avon Mayor Buz Reynolds said Tuesday. “It goes beyond the money to an unfair burden on the taxpayers.”
If the town charged a fare – $1 per person – for the services, it would bring in about $130,000, Brooks said.
“If we charged for it, our fear is that some people would choose not to ride it,” Brooks said. “The money it might generate would further reduce the cost, but with that system, it slows things down. The system slows down to collect the money. It puts us one step forward and two steps back.”
Last week, the ECO Transit board of directors approved unanimously contributing $100,000 to Avon’s skier shuttle, stating that from the beginning, the route established a “dot-to-dot” connection between Avon and Beaver Creek.
The ECO Transit implemented a skier route between Vail and Beaver Creek, with a stop in Avon, in the mid-1980s to transport skiers between the two resorts.
“The ECO decision was made with two other players involved,” said Ron Wolfe, an Avon town councilman. “We don’t know where it’ll stand without the other two players.”
Yet the Avon Town Council views the skier shuttle service as a short-term problem, said Brian Sipes, Avon Town councilman. Other transportation issues have been discussed for months, which include the Beaver Creek gondola, which recently was put on hold.
“Once the gondola goes in, it’s going to change everything,” Reynolds said.
But for now, the town is trying to save the viability of the bus service for next winter.
“The skier shuttle enhances the business for the lodging, skiing and business community,” Wolfe said. “It’s good for Avon and mountain operations, as well.”
Christine Ina Casillas can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.