Vail Valley: Raising fares, cutting service
VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – Greg Ayers knew ECO Transit fares were probably going up Tuesday, but he came to Eagle anyway to ask for a break for himself and fellow Vail Valley riders.
Ayers was right about the fare hike – with Eagle County Commissioner Jon Stavney absent, commissioners Peter Runyon and Sara Fisher voted to approve a plan that will raise fares and cut bus service down to roughly 2004 levels.
“I wanted to be part of the process,” Ayers said. “There are a lot of people in the community who don’t have a voice in this.”
Michael Gallagher – not the former Eagle County Commissioner – also urged the commissioners to think about bus riders before approving the fare hikes and cutbacks.
“I think your decision-making process is flawed,” Gallagher said, adding that cutting bus service after midnight will have effects on both public safety and the local economy.
“It’s grossly unfair to drop the late bus,” Gallagher said, adding that bar and restaurant employees, as well as people out for a night on the town have come to depend on the county’s service.
Both Ayers and Gallagher urged the commissioners to find other ways to fund local bus service, perhaps with a new sales or property tax, or with increased vehicle registration fees.
Fisher and Runyon both said they’re open to finding new sources of revenue for the bus system. But, Fisher said, voters would have to approve any changes to the way the bus system is funded, and that will take time.
Beyond the time involved, Runyon added that state law prohibits using any tax money to either promote or oppose any ballot initiative. That means any proposed changes to the transit system’s funding will have to be supported financially by a citizen’s group like the one that passed the original sales tax for the bus system in 1994.
Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll was involved in the campaign to get the transit tax passed, and is currently the chairman of the ECO Transit Board of Directors. He told the commissioners that the current changes have been hard.
“For 11 years, ECO provided amazing service, and we increased it all the time,” Shroll said.
The original sales tax was seen as a way to get tourists to pay for the service, since about 70 percent of the county’s sales tax collections come from people who live elsewhere.
“When the economy suffers, sales tax goes down, and layoffs create fewer riders,” Shroll said. “The only revenue ECO can collect right now is sales tax and at the fare box.”
That worked well for years, Shroll said. “But right now, we have to monitor a $2 million shortfall.”
Minturn Town Council member and ECO board member Matt Scherr told the commissioners that Minturn businesses may be proportionally harder hit than others due to the cutbacks. But, he said, he still voted for the recommendations the commissioners approved Tuesday.
“None of us were very comfortable with this decision,” Scherr said. “But this is what we have to do. It was a painful decision, but we couldn’t find any other way out, and this still leaves a shortfall.”
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.