After a $70,000 study failed to deliver the desired recommendations for time-saving improvements to the Summit Stage, transit officials are taking measures into their own hands.
Members of the Summit Stage board are looking at simplifying the current service by establishing a series of smaller circulator routes within each town and connecting them by bigger hub routes that would likely run just between Frisco and Breckenridge and Silverthorne and Keystone.
“We know that the travel times between the major destinations are slowing down,” transit board president Kent Willis said. “One of the ways to address that is to take off some of the load on those major routes.”
The connector buses would run only between the system’s hubs: the transfer centers in each town, with a limited number of stops in between. Passengers would then be able to get off at their destination and use the smaller localized routes — similar to Breckenridge’s existing Free Ride bus system — to get around the towns.
The proposal could save the cash-strapped Summit Stage money if the circulator routes were paid for by the towns they serviced, an option that transit officials say is unpopular, but still on the table.
“We’re looking at all of the options,” Willis said. “Frankly, running a transit system is extremely expensive and it’s difficult for each individual town to bear that expense. We can’t say we won’t consider it, but I don’t think it’s a preferred choice by any means.”
If local towns didn’t pay for their individual circulator routes, restructuring the system could be expensive for the Summit Stage.
Willis said using smaller 15- or 20-passenger buses for the feeder routes might be a way to help cut costs.
The model might also present an opportunity to bring Blue River into the fold. There is currently no bus service south of Breckenridge, and their exclusion from the Summit Stage system is increasingly a point of contention for Blue River leaders and residents.
“People are not happy and don’t understand why we have been excluded all these many years,” Blue River Mayor Lindsay Backas said. “We’re not tiny little Blue River anymore. We are a part of Summit County.”
The hub-and-spoke style system has been discussed as a way to make the Summit Stage more time efficient for several years, and officials hoped it would be investigated as part of a study commissioned in 2012, but in the end, it was not, they said.
“The goal of this (study) was to say, ‘Here’s what we think we want going forward,’” assistant Summit County manager Thad Noll said at a recent meeting.
Rather than going back to the consultant, TransitPlus, which completed the study last year, the transit board will likely begin investigating the hub-and-spoke model internally, to determine whether it is feasible and how to finance it.