Vail explores options for increasing summer bus service to East Vail trailheads |

Vail explores options for increasing summer bus service to East Vail trailheads

However, the Town Council said no to allowing dogs on any new shuttle in the area

The town of Vail is looking into options to expand bus service to its East Vail trailheads during summer 2023.
Rick Spitzer/Courtesy photo, Vail Daily archive

There could be additional bus services to East Vail trailheads this summer, as the town considers seeking out grant funding and a contractor for a three-month pilot program.  

On Tuesday, March 21, Chris Southwick, the town’s mobility innovation coordinator, presented a proposal for a summer pilot program that would address two Town Council to-dos.

“We’ve received interest from Town Council in the past about potentially allowing pet dogs onboard our buses as well as potentially providing additional transportation options to the East Vail trailheads to reduce some of the traffic congestion we see out in the East Vail neighborhoods,” Southwick said. “We’ve been planning this potential pilot project to try and address both of those.”

As proposed, the town would run this “East Vail hiker shuttle” seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. from June 1 to Aug. 31. The shuttle would run as a 30-minute loop, increasing the frequency of transit in the area to every 15 minutes.

The proposed route for a new East Vail bus route that the town of Vail is considering piloting from June 1 to Aug. 31, 2023.
Courtesy Photo

Southwick also presented this as an opportunity to see the impact of allowing “pet dogs” on transit and test “the feasibility of allowing dogs on other portions of our transit system.”

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However, the town — alongside nearly all of the state’s transit agencies — is experiencing a shortage of bus drivers. So, rather than have the town run the service, it was proposed that the town would hire a third-party service for the shuttle.

Not only would this put less strain on town of Vail bus drivers — who would likely have to work overtime to cover the service — but it would create a clear delineation between which buses pet dogs might be allowed on, as the contracted bus would have a different look, Southwick said.

Overall, Vail’s Town Council supported the idea of increasing service in this area, because, as Council member Travis Coggin put it: “there is so much demand.” However, the council expressed concerns about allowing — and potentially encouraging — dogs on the buses in this area.

“We’ve definitely talked about (allowing dogs) really just to encourage more town of Vail bus ridership in general,” said Mayor Kim Langmaid. “The one thing we want to be careful of here is encouraging more dogs in the wilderness up at the lakes. We’ve heard examples of local owner dogs chasing down baby goats and killing them, and being pretty entitled about it.”

Additionally, Coggin pointed out that even with using a different style of bus, allowing dogs on just one bus could create confusion and “become a problem.”

 “I think the minute they’re on one bus — I understand there’s a difference between a private shuttle and a public bus, they look different — but it’s not going to stop the confrontations. And our bus drivers have enough headaches. They don’t need to deal with entitled dog owners,” Coggin said.

Council member Jen Mason agreed with the sentiment of not encouraging more hikers with dogs in East Vail to preserve the “pristine places” the trailheads go to, but added she still wants “to see a way to have dogs on the in-town, regular bus system.”

Council also requested that the town staff look to see if it could run the program internally, which Jordan Winters, the town’s transit operations manager, said it would be more inclined to do without dogs being a part of the pilot.

Staff estimated that increasing the bus service in East Vail with this shuttle would cost between $250,000 and $300,000 for the three-month period.

However, the town will be seeking grant funding from the Colorado Ozone Season Free Transit Grant Program, which provides funding for transit systems with free fare transit to increase service during “ozone season,” which is June through August. According to Southwick, this funding could cover the entire cost of the pilot, and dogs or no dogs, the town can pursue this funding.

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