When Summit Stage officials implemented a series of surgical cuts, designed to target the least popular routes and save the system $300,000 annually, they thought they were choosing the cost-savings plan that would be least painful for the public.
But the elimination of several early morning routes has hit a small group of locals and regular bus riders hard.
A number of those riders spoke out, after the bus service they counted on to get to work disappeared in April, asking to have the routes reinstated. But transit officials say the system can’t swing the additional cost.
“It’s not inexpensive to add these buses back,” Summit Stage transit board president Kent Willis said. “When we did this we knew we were going to be impacting some riders, we were just hoping to impact as few as possible. Even though they have been local, they’re still a fairly small number of riders taking those early morning buses.”
There are riders in three different camps asking to have three different routes — all early morning commuters — added back into the system, including the 6:30 a.m. Frisco to Breckenridge, the 7:15 a.m. Breckenridge to Frisco and a Frisco to Dillon Valley morning line. Officials say it would cost upwards of $20,000 to reinstate all of the routes for the summer season.
The Stage’s sales-tax based revenue has been on the rise this year, bringing in a few hundred thousand dollars more than last year. But the Stage has been on a tight budget for several years and the system’s savings account is nearly empty, and several transit officials said it was too soon to start spending again.
“I think it’s too early, just because tax revenues are up, to start adding back,” said James Phelps, Breckenridge’s representative to the Summit Stage board. “I’d like to stay the course. If things do start to tick up in a real favorable way, we can look at bringing back some of these areas.”
But transit administrators are working on a compromise: assigning a single bus that would pick up in Frisco at 6:30 a.m., travel to Breckenridge station, pick up riders at approximately 7:15 a.m. and return to Frisco. The route would address the concerns of two of the three rider groups impacted by the cuts. Officials are still exploring whether the proposal is affordable.
All of the service cuts will be restored when the Summit Stage returns to its winter schedule in early December.
Willis said the transit board may continue restored service next summer if sales tax income remains strong.
The cuts were part of a plan developed by a group of bus drivers and other transit stakeholders to help the system cover a $300,000 budget shortfall this year without drastically reducing service. In response to several proposals that called for sweeping cuts and driver layoffs, the group analyzed normal summer ridership and put forward a plan that trimmed the least-used routes and bus runs.
The plan, dubbed Scenario 6, impacts approximately 1,500 people, compared to the 32,000 riders who would have lost their routes in some of the other alternatives.