Vail Town Council hears update on extensive study of ECO Transit service
By the numbers
• 45 percent: Increase in ECO Transit ridership since 2010.
• 2,500 average daily work trips into Vail.
• 84 percent: Ski-season riders who use ECO Transit several times per week.
• 48 percent: Ski-season riders who don’t have access to a car.
• 2 percent: Total increase in ECO Transit operating costs since 2010.
Source: ECO Transit
VAIL — A continuing study about Eagle County’s ECO Transit system didn’t have to dig very deep to learn what most people want: better, faster, more frequent service. The study is focusing on how many of those wish-list items the service can provide.
The Vail Town Council on Tuesday, Oct. 17, received an update on that study from ECO Transit Director Chris Lubbers and Geoff Slater, of Nelson/Nygaard, a national consulting firm hired to do the study. That study is expected to produce recommendations and a proposed plan by spring of 2018.
While the study is continuing, Slater told council members that survey responses indicate people think ECO Transit is doing a good job, but improvements are needed.
Those improvements include better access to jobs and, perhaps, upgrading the system to accommodate what riders say is greater demand.
Those questions, and many others, come down to money. ECO Transit depends in large part on a 0.5 percent county sales tax, as well as roughly $2.1 million per year in fare box collections.
Interestingly, the money collected via fares for current service is just about the estimated cost of making the service free, as it is on Summit County’s system.
Park vs ride
The fare box cost of ECO Transit Service has been a frequent topic of discussion as Vail’s council has wrestled with winter parking rates.
The Pink parking pass allows parking at Ford Park and the town’s soccer field. Even at the new rate of $200, that’s still less expensive than a bus pass, which costs $100 per month for unlimited rides.
“Employees should be able to buy (passes) at a reduced rate,” council member Jenn Bruno said. “As a business person, I’m buying (my employees) a Pink pass” instead of a bus pass.
Bruno said she’d be happy to buy an annual bus pass for $500.
But those passes are an important part of ECO Transit’s revenue picture. Agency director Chris Lubbers told council members pass sales add up to about $800,000 per year, nearly one-third of ECO Transit’s annual fare box collections.
Still, Bruno said, those passes are being bought by people who often don’t own cars or can’t afford to drive, then pay to park, in Vail.
The vast majority of people who ride ECO Transit are people going to and from work. Results from the study so far show more than 80 percent of riders use the service to get to and from work. During the winter, a similar percentage of riders are people who report a household income of $75,000 per year or less. That percentage goes up to 94 percent during non-winter months.
Most of that daily ridership comes from Avon and Edwards — about 2,000 of the system’s 2,500 riders per day.
Is Leadville worth serving?
Relatively few riders — 90 per day — come from Leadville. While some council members asked if better service to Leadville and Minturn would result in better ridership, Slater said there’s already “decent” ridership from those communities.
That information led council member Dick Cleveland to question the need for continuing service to Leadville, adding that the money used for that route might be better spent on beefing up service in the Eagle River Valley.
While adding buses and drivers is an obvious way to improve service, Slater said the study is also looking at better ways to improve coordination with the other transit systems in the valley: those that serve the towns of Vail and Avon, as well as the Beaver Creek Resort system.
Part of that could be marketing. But a big part could be using a single app or website for schedules for all those transit systems. While that’s in process, Lubbers said ECO Transit already recognizes how limited its own website is.
Lubbers said getting ECO Transit onto the “transit” portion of Google Maps has been a positive step, but more can be done.
Mayor Dave Chapin said he’s looking forward to seeing a report of study results.
“We’re trying to make (transit) better for everybody — the environment, our employees and our guests,” he said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.