Stage’s ski season service limited |

Stage’s ski season service limited

Reid Williams

SUMMIT COUNTY – For many people who rely on the Summit Stage to get them to work or to the ski slopes, the wait will become a longer, colder one that last year, come November.

The Summit Stage traditionally switches its service schedule in late November to reflect the increased demand of ski season tourists and residents who use the free buses to get to work. This year, however, tax collections that are falling short of projections will limit Stage administrators’ ability to augment the bus schedule.

Members of the county’s transit board will broach the potential problem at Wednesday’s board meeting, with a more detailed discussion planned for its August meeting.

The discussion is expected to focus on which bus routes will take priority given the reduced funding to operate bus lines. Stage staff will propose to the board that the top priority should be additional service between Frisco and Copper Mountain, ensuring that a bus makes the rounds every 30 minutes during the day.

The second priority, Stage staff will recommend, will be added service between Frisco and Silverthorne to ensure that at least two buses will be traveling between the stations during the day.

Current estimates indicate the Stage will collect about 10 percent fewer sales tax dollars for 2003 than originally expected – roughly a $600,000 miss on the budget.

The Summit Stage is largely funded by a portion of the sales tax collected by Summit County merchants. Of the county’s 7.75 percent sales tax, .75 percent goes to the Stage. Local voters raised the Stage’s share from .50 percent in November 2001, creating an extra $2 million a year to hire and train new drivers in order to expand late-night service.

The Stage’s directors, along with other local government officials, have watched sales tax collections lag in the past few years.

The 2003 budgeted sales tax collections for the bus service represented more than half a million dollars less than the actual collections for 2002. Stage officials are currently preparing the budget for the 2004 fiscal year, and the budget is expected to show a 4 percent decrease from this year.

Although it does not help operations, the Stage’s budget has been buoyed by federal grants throughout its history, most recently by a grant secured by U.S. Rep. Mark Udall.

The $725,888 from the Federal Transit Administration will help the Stage purchase four new 30-foot buses. Stage administrators have shaved costs by adapting the service’s bus fleet to demand patterns.

Eventually, says Stage director Bill Watterson, the bus fleet will consist of 16 larger buses and 16 mini-buses. The larger buses are used during periods of high demand, and routes switch to the smaller buses typically for late-night service or on little-used bus lines.

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