Romer: Regional transportation authority is a great opportunity
The Vail and Beaver Creek Economic Advisory Councils met together in January of 2020 to discuss the need for an improved transportation and transit system in the Eagle River Valley. There was great momentum and excitement for how we could improve upon the ECO Transit model to benefit our community.
There was an understandable pause as the pandemic hit in March of 2020. But it truly was a pause, as we moved forward in August with an outline for a regional transit optimization project, which was blessed by mayors and managers resulting in the formation of an ad hoc technical committee to explore options.
This has been a regional effort — from Gypsum to Vail — intending to maintain, enhance and expand ECO Transit and improve our transit and transportation infrastructure, as you may have seen in the Vail Daily. The common theme throughout all the towns and districts involved is that public transportation services are increasingly important as our community grows and continues to face challenges ranging from climate change to housing to parking. A comprehensive, convenient transit system not only provides mobility, but can help shape land use and development patterns (housing), generate jobs, enable economic growth, and support public policies regarding energy use, air quality and carbon emissions.
The groups working on the development of a regional transportation authority are exploring the feasibility of a fare-free transit zone with expanded service, which may include all or portions of Avon, Vail, Edwards, Minturn and Beaver Creek. This is designed to better meet both visitor and workforce needs, reduce congestion and limit parking demand.
There is widespread acknowledgment that we must plan not only for today but also for the future. This includes planning for one or more of the following potential future enhancements, to be introduced as soon as equipment, staffing, and facilities allow. This might include increased capacity and/or service frequency on U.S. Highway 6, increased all-day service frequency on Valley Route, including additional service to Dotsero, and/or increased service to/from Leadville to better accommodate our out-of-county workforce needs.
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A regional transportation authority can help Eagle County reach climate action goals as well. An RTA can help accelerate the conversion to zero-emission operations through the conversion of ECO’s existing Highway 6 bus service to a zero-emission platform (completing conversion to zero-emission buses is anticipated to occur between 5 to 10 years (2028 to 2033)).
First and Last Mile is an essential concept for transit providers. Improving access to and from transit for a wider range of people will ultimately lead to a better catchment for transit ridership. Employee surveys show that many people do not currently utilize transit due to a lack of convenient stops near home or work. On the flip side, convenient bus stops are a top reason for those who do utilize transit.
An RTA could study, design, financially support and implement, with partnerships as appropriate, first and last-mile improvements to enhance transit ridership, including but not limited to the development of park-and-ride facilities, bus stops, and pedestrian crossings. The proposed RTA will play a role in planning, funding, and implementing additional innovative mobility programs on a regional level, such as regional e-bike sharing, on-demand micro-transit and community vanpool programs.
Improving transit coordination, services, and schedules among our transportation providers will benefit our local community and our workforce. Reducing parking demands and helping accomplish climate action goals are added benefits. All of this, and leveraging our combined strength to potentially attract more federal and state grant dollars to our region, has me excited to see how the RTA moves forward in the upcoming months.
Chris Romer is president & CEO of Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at VailValleyPartnership.com