FRISCO - A new budget plan for the Summit Stage calls for a series of small route and schedule changes that may shield the transit system from far-reaching service cuts proposed in the face of a $300,000 shortfall this year.
A route committee, made up of bus drivers and other transit stakeholders, developed the plan in response to three cost-saving alternatives put forward last month, that might have meant reducing all routes to hourly service, layoffs and significant impact to riders.
"To do away with any of the peak buses would be extremely painful to both locals and visitors," said Bruce Camping, a driver and member of the Summit Stage Transit Board. "Any scheme that cuts the schedule at a given time of day is a brute force way of cutting back and saving money. We figured there would be a more intelligent way to do that."
Members of the route committee studied summer ridership numbers and came up with what they called a more "surgical" cost-saving scenario that would eliminate five off-peak runs, all of which see almost no traffic in the summer.
The plan, dubbed Scenario 6, would also push the start of the more minimal summer service schedule up by two weeks in the spring and reduce the Swan Mountain Flyer - a bus that commutes to Arapahoe Basin Ski Area - to weekend service for several weeks in the spring.
"It's the least impact on riders, it is the least impact on our drivers and it's cutting out the waste as opposed to really cutting service," transit board president Kent Willis said.
The new plan would still call for layoffs, although fewer than required by previous proposals.
But it wouldn't save as much money as previous proposals. The most sweeping service-cut proposals put forward, Scenario 1, would save the Stage as much as $900,000 per year. Scenario 6 would save only about $300,000 annually - approximately enough to cover the shortfall, but not enough to significantly rebuild the system's depleted savings account.
But Scenario 6 would have a much smaller impact on riders - affecting only 1,500 people, compared to the 32,000 passengers who would lose their regular routes under Scenario 1.
But not everyone is receiving the new budget plan with enthusiasm. Scenario 6 calls for the start of the winter bus schedule to be pushed back by two weeks, from Thanksgiving to the second week of December. The change would leave Copper Mountain with less frequent service during the first part of its ski season, which begins Nov. 1.
"We're going to run five weeks on hourly service, which if you look at the whole season, that's a big chunk," said Cindy Gillespie, Copper's representative on the transit board. "Copper has some major concerns about that."
The board was very close to approving the Scenario 6 cuts Wednesday, to take effect when the summer schedule begins in April. But the decision on pushing back the winter start date was postponed for further discussion in March.
Stage officials are also considering selling advertising on the outside of buses as an additional revenue generator.