Frisco looks into microtransit to help fill gaps in public transit

A Summit Stage bus pulls into a stop on Main Street in Frisco on Aug. 31, 2021. Because Summit Stage only runs once per hour, Frisco Town Council is looking into the possibility of adding microtransit, a privately operated system for point-to-point transportation.
Grace Coomaraswamy/For the Summit Daily News

In an effort to help connect the local workforce across Summit County, the town of Frisco is looking into microtransit options to operate alongside Summit Stage bus routes. 

Council members discussed how microtransit — or a privately operated system for variable point-to-point transportation instead of distinct routes — could work in town and other communities. 

“Especially if you’re coming from a neighborhood, there’s not a lot of great opportunities to get from your house to the transit center to then take that shuttle, so that’s where our lack is,” Don Reimer, community development director, said. 

Reimer said that microtransit would focus on “the first and last mile,” meaning the distance between someone’s home and the nearest transit stop. Because Summit Stage only runs once per hour, some council members had concerns when it comes to community members catching the bus for work — especially if they are coming from another town. Some Summit Stage routes do not have stops within neighborhoods, which poses a challenge, Reimer said.

Town Council and staff have sustainability goals — including having better infrastructure to reduce the amount of cars driving in Frisco — and having better transit options could assist with reduced parking requirements for new construction of workforce housing. Reimer added this would be a better solution for community members who live in workforce housing complexes and do not have cars. 

“To me, the view of this is we keep talking about less cars, and we keep trying to plan things for more or less cars,” council member Andy Held said. “If we don’t offer other options, multiple multimodal options, we will never have less cars. Everybody’s going to drive to Main Street from The Reserve (neighborhood), from (their) neighborhood and everywhere else. They don’t walk, or they walk for exercise or they ride their bike.”

The town had a fixed-route service that was in Frisco neighborhoods known as the Frisco Flyer in the past. It ran during the late 1990s and ended in 2001. Operated by Summit Stage, the Frisco Flyer has been brought up over the years, according to a memo to the Town Council, but it never got past the idea stage. 

Since the spring, town staff has worked with Via, a microtransit company, about what options could be pursued by the town. Microtransit can become expensive, so staff has pitched the idea of a regional system that other towns can join in order to fill in service gaps by Summit Stage. 

“In our conversations, one of the benefits of the smaller (transit) is you don’t need a commercial driver’s license for the drivers,” Reimer said. “And that’s, I think, one of the biggest challenges we know for Summit Stage and some of these other larger transit providers. If you look around, Denver is starting one and they use a shuttle van that’s about the size of a Sprinter van. Our conversations are talking about maybe a minivan, maybe a Subaru — like a four- to six- to eight-passenger maximum type (of) vehicle.”

Reimer added that this could also be used by Summit Middle School and Summit High School students since Summit Stage sees large ridership from students during the school year. 

“It all goes into this greater discussion about workforce housing,” Held added. “When we come along to the area where we actually end up maximizing density and building greater workforce housing than maybe we’re looking at today, this has to be part of that answer. In order to be able to offer less parking, you need to offer a way to get from A to B.”

Council members directed staff to pursue a regional approach to make microtransit more effective and financially viable, and Frisco will request a spot on an upcoming Summit County Transit Board agenda to discuss support for collaboration on regional microtransit. Additionally, members of the Town Council directed staff to issue a request for proposals for shuttle services to supplement the Summit Stage with a fixed-route circulator through Frisco neighborhoods.

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