Vail Valley transit agencies preparing for winter, possible occupancy cutbacks
- Wash your hands often
- Wear a mask indoors and in public spaces where social distancing isn’t possible.
- Stay home when you’re sick.
- Get tested immediately if you have symptoms.
Only four of Eagle County’s five commitments of containment are possible if you’re riding public transit — it’s hard to socially distance on a bus.
Buses are still running in Eagle County, Avon and Vail. Transit is defined as an “essential service.”
Local transit agencies are looking at both current health orders, as well as possible further restrictions due to increasing COVID-19 cases, and trying to determine how best to move people up and down the valley and around the towns.
At this point, Eagle County’s ECO Transit is running buses to full-seated capacity. No standing is allowed. Including standing passengers, ECO buses can carry 50 to 60 people. Seated capacity is about 35 riders per bus. All passengers must wear masks while riding.
ECO Director Tanya Alen said “It will be challenging” if the state restricts buses to 50% capacity. If the state orders strict 6-foot distancing, passenger loads could be reduced to 12 or 15 people.
“Right now we’re doing the best we can,” Allen said. If state guidance changes, “it’ll be challenging,” she added.
At the moment, the ECO winter plan is to have “shadow” buses during high-ridership times. That may result in “slightly” reduced service during off-peak hours, she said.
Allen said she hopes state officials will take in to account the needs of rural transit systems.
Local control needed
“One size fits all … doesn’t give us the control we need,” Allen said. “It’s extremely critical to demonstrate what we can do locally to keep (the virus) contained.
Vail Town Manager Scott Robson said officials in Vail are currently “neck-deep” in planning for winter. He said he’s also expecting new state regulations mandating 50% capacity on buses.
If that happens, “It’s going to be an incredible challenge,” Robson said.
Buses in Vail most years haul more than 2 million people per year. It’s by far the most-used transit system in the valley.
Robson said the town system isn’t just for moving guests around. It’s also an essential service for moving employees and residents around town.
To keep the service running, Robson said town officials are looking at “a range of safety measures.”
Passengers must all wear masks, of course, with free masks available to those who might not have one. The buses have “significant cleaning protocols,” Robson said.
Perhaps the biggest addition is the installation on all buses of the Synexis Biodefense “dry hydrogen peroxide” disinfecting system. The town has installed Synexis systems in all of its municipal buildings, and there are portable systems on all 30 of the town’s buses.
Those systems are spreading in the High Country and throughout the country. Robson said Vail is the first town in the country to have the systems in all its buses and buildings.
In commercial buildings, the Synexis system has been shown to reduce absenteeism.
In addition, buses will run with open windows to keep air flowing through the vehicles.
Looking over their shoulders
Avon Mobility Director Eva Wilson in an email wrote that town is doubling its Skier Express Shuttle service to provide as much social distancing as possible. The town has also purchased an additional two used buses to augment the current six-vehicle fleet.
In Vail, Robson said the town during peak periods will run “piggyback” buses during peak periods. That means running two buses on one route during peak times.
Robson noted that Vail’s service is different than ECO’s in one key respect. Most riders in Vail are on a bus for 15 minutes or less, and shorter potential exposure times are better. ECO riders generally spend far longer on their bus trips.
Even as winter operations plans are now being put into place, transit managers are looking over their shoulders.
If the state requires bus occupancy to cut back back to 50% or less, Robson said it would create a hardship for a lot of passengers.
“If transit got ratcheted that far back, even for short services… we’d leave hundreds of passengers standing in close proximity,” he said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at email@example.com.
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Are we seeing more bears because there are more bears on the valley floor, or because we’re all spending more time at home? It could be a bit of both.