The Summit County Transit Board decided Wednesday to take a small but significant step toward restoring Summit Stage bus service to pre-recession levels.
Beginning Nov. 22, when Summit Stage rotates to its winter schedule, residents and visitors will benefit from the addition of six morning rush hour and skier express routes to the free bus system.
The board approved restoring one Silverthorne Loop run at 7:15 a.m., increasing service to every 30 minutes between 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. The board also restored one Wildernest run at 7:45 a.m., providing transit service every 30 minutes from 7:15 to 8:15 a.m.
Prior to the 2008 economic recession, both routes offered bus service every 30 minutes between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. After the recession, the Transit Board was forced to cut 30 runs from its traditional service schedule. The Silverthorne and Wildernest routes bore the brunt of those cuts, losing 12 runs each, which resulted in transit service every hour.
“We’re not back to where we were (before the recession), but we’re inching our way back,” Summit Stage transit director Jim Andrew said. “We’re not at the point where we can restore all of the service, but I think the board felt it was important to at least increase service during the morning commute.”
In addition to restoring some service to Silverthorne and Wildernest, the board also approved adding several experimental routes in Summit County’s skier corridors to expedite commutes for employees of local resorts and to get visitors onto local mountains more quickly.
Among those additions are express buses from Silverthorne to Keystone, Silverthorne to Breckenridge and Frisco to Copper Mountain. The board also decided to add one direct trip from the Ptarmigan Area to Silverthorne Station to accommodate guests at four Silverthorne hotels.
“After the recession, we felt it was important to maintain a bulk of the traditional service without operating in the red,” said Summit Stage planner Bruce Camping. “This is the first time we have discussed doing anything beyond the status quo. It’s a small step, but it’s a significant move from the holding pattern we’ve been in since 2008.”
In total, the additions this winter bring Summit Stage about 20 percent closer to restoring transit service to pre-recession levels. Although all of the additions affect the morning work and tourism commutes, Summit Stage officials originally proposed a more robust service expansion plan, which also would have added afternoon runs to all of the previously mentioned routes.
The proposed plan would have added $58,000 in added costs for the winter season. The amended plan approved Wednesday reduced that increased cost to an estimated $30,000 for the season.
“At the end of last year, we had $53,000 in the bank,” said Summit County assistant manager Thad Noll before the board’s vote. “I’m just as anxious to expand our service, but I’m also anxious to get our fund balance under control.”
With the economy slowly improving, Noll said, the Transit Fund could end 2014 with a fund balance of $500,000, if revenue trends continue.
“If we put a half a million bucks in the bank by the end of the year, we’ll have the funds to do more in the future,” Noll said. “As it stands, we’ve added two new buses to the fleet and we’re increasing some service. I think we’re sitting pretty for the season.”