Late-night bus service off to sleepy start
SUMMIT COUNTY – The Summit Stage has been offering free late-night bus rides around the county for two months now. And though the ridership numbers have been something less than spectacular, Summit Stage Transit Advisory Board members say it’s still too early to make any projections about the future of the service.
The true test could come after the service has run for a full ski season – and after more people learn about the late-night option.
Transit board members’ plans to promote ridership through increased advertising and marketing have been slowed by a glitch in the tax collection process. And until all that money comes in, board members don’t know how much – or how little – they can spare for a advertising campaign.
In November, Summit County voters approved a measure to increase the sales tax a quarter of a penny in part to fund the additional two hours of late-night service, from midnight to 2 a.m.
The tax was to be collected beginning in January, and the transit board originally proposed beginning the extended hours in mid-April. Board members moved the starting date to March after some advocates of late-night transportation, including the county restaurant association and the Summit Prevention Alliance (SPA), argued April would be too late to serve the spring break crowds.
County commissioners gave the OK for the early start even though the tax monies weren’t yet available for the Stage to spend.
Then a glitch in the tax collection process for January and February prevented the transit board from receiving the full amount intended for the extended bus service.
“Because we made every effort to deliver this service early, we may have put the cart before the horse,” said Summit Stage director Bill Watterson. “Rather than doing a promotional campaign first, we answered the interest to have the service in place as soon as possible.
“We’re delivering a service that people overwhelmingly said they wanted. We’d like to find ways to have more people use the service, but it’s not going to happen overnight.”
At the transit board’s meeting Thursday, members reached a consensus concerning marketing and advertising plans. Watterson will assess funds available and present a loose marketing plan at next month’s meeting.
“We owe it to the community to make sure they know that the opportunity exists,” said David Cunningham, a transit board member. “We plan to work closely with the Chamber of Commerce and the towns to make sure they are aware of this service and can tell their guests about it. This is absolutely something we should do before next ski season.”
The restaurant association and SPA also have plans to encourage people to take advantage of the extended bus schedule. Dan Fallon, owner of Barkley’s Margarita Grille in Frisco and president of the Summit County Restaurant Association, said he’s considering creating drink coasters and other promotional material with information about the buses.
SPA plans to advertise the service through public service announcements and is developing a logo to use on promotional napkins, posters, and coasters, said prevention coordinator Beverly Gmerek.
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