Summit County officials receive recommendations from transit equity and access study

A woman waits for a Summit Stage bus at a stop on Main Street in Frisco on Aug. 31. The Summit Board of County Commissioners recently discussed strategies to improve equity and access within the Summit Stage bus service.
Grace Coomaraswamy/For the Summit Daily News

The Summit Board of County Commissioners discussed strategies to improve equity and access within the Summit Stage bus service during a work session meeting Sept. 7.

Earlier this year, the county hired a transportation consulting firm called Fehr & Peers to conduct the study for Summit Stage, a broad effort that sought to determine the biggest barriers community members face when trying to use the service and what steps the county could take to ensure more residents are able to do so reliably.

Sydney Provan, a transportation planner with Fehr & Peers, was present at the meeting to provide the board with the results of the group’s public outreach efforts and draft recommendations for improvements. Provan said the group completed a survey of 120 individuals, whose feedback helped to inform the recommendations in conjunction with focus groups of Summit and Lake county residents, as well as conversations with organizations like the Summit Community Care Clinic and Summit School District.

Provan broke the recommendations into six primary categories:

  • Safety, comfort and customer experience
  • Mountain Mobility paratransit service
  • Stop locations and connections
  • Improving travel times
  • Commuter routes
  • Marketing and information

Customer experience

Among the recommendations related to safety and the overall experience of Summit Stage riders, Provan listed improved lighting at bus shelters and working with the school district to have chaperones escort students to after-school activities as some of the top priorities.

Provan also recommended strategies to better support non-English speakers in the community, such as offering Spanish-language and cultural sensitivity training for drivers so they can better interact with riders. Other ideas included offering English-language classes to help recruit drivers who speak other languages and expanding training on Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

Summit Stage Director Chris Lubbers said he felt his team would respond well to the opportunity for more professional development.

“Right now, staff is very willing to develop personally and professionally,” Lubbers said. “We have a culture there where they are not just willing but really looking for opportunities to develop.”

Paratransit service

The Summit Stage also offers the Mountain Mobility paratransit service to anyone with a qualifying disability. The service will take them anywhere in Summit County within three-quarters of a mile from a Summit Stage or Breckenridge Free Ride bus stop.

Based on community feedback, Provan recommended modifying the program to expand services beyond the three-quarter mile policy and to allow for same-day reservations. She also recommended the addition of door-to-door service for riders unable to access the curb, and working with service providers in the community to educate individuals with disabilities about the program and how it works.

Stop locations and connections

Perhaps the most robust set of recommendations were related to updating bus stop locations and improving residents’ abilities to get to the stops.

Provan pitched additional stops at underserved locations such as the Dillon Valley East Clubhouse, Swan Meadow Village, Summit Cove, Wintergreen and others. She also recommended strategies to improve local service, such as creating smaller routes in neighborhoods like Wildernest and Dillon Valley that would collect residents closer to their homes and feed into the main town-to-town routes.

The concern with all of this is the current lack of drivers the service is facing. As the county looks at potential route changes for the upcoming winter season, Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said areas with heavy workforce populations should be prioritized.

“We’re at a time where we need to prioritize and potentially cut back on some routes simply due to driver shortage,” Lawrence said. “… Our workforce is very precious right now and fragile, and I think we’re at a point of protecting that.”

Provan also recommended conducting another first/last mile study of bus stops to identify priority needs in improving bike and pedestrian access to stops.

Improving travel times

Provan said adding more direct routes between towns would help to improve travel times for residents, one of the top barriers reported by Summit Stage users in the survey. She recommended new direct routes between Dillon Valley, Dillon and Frisco; Silverthorne, Dillon and Breckenridge; and a simplified route between Silverthorne, Dillon and Keystone.

Other strategies include widening highway shoulders where possible to create dedicated bus lanes and collaborating with local schools to match bus schedules with the school start and end times so more students can use Summit Stage buses, something that could help with the district’s own driver shortage.

Commuter routes

Key recommendations for the service’s commuter routes included making the service free moving forward, a policy the county implemented during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and intends to keep at least through this winter.

“I think it’s important to remind folks that we’re extending this policy for now, and we’ll continue to look at it,” Commissioner Josh Blanchard said. “… As we look at the dynamics of our workforce, we may need to try and work together with our partners in these communities to establish a more permanent fare-free program or really look at what it is going to cost if we want to switch back. I think that’s key.”

Provan said there were also a considerable amount of requests from commuter-service users to increase the frequency of the routes and add additional stops in the region’s mobile home communities.

Marketing and information

Finally, Provan recommended a number of improvements based around making sure community members are well informed about where the bus service goes and how to ride, including enhancing general marketing efforts, ensuring all of the Summit Stage’s informational materials are available in Spanish and creating rider-training programs through partnerships with schools, the Care Clinic and the Family & Intercultural Resource Center.

Provan also pitched some potential additions to the Summit Stage app, such as a route-planning feature.

Next steps

Commissioners largely responded well to all of the ideas and voiced support to begin tackling some of them as soon as possible, such as improving lighting at bus stops, offering Spanish-language training to drivers and prioritizing connectivity to areas like Swan Meadow Village.

Other ideas will take more time and planning. The team is expected to return to the board with a final set of recommendations soon, which if approved would serve as a road map for Summit Stage improvements into the future.

For now, the county’s biggest goal remains finding enough drivers to meet the demand.

“My top priority is finding strategies to hire more drivers,” Commissioner Tamara Pogue said. “I think a lot of this is just semantics until we can do that.”

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