Summit Stage confronts falling ridership
Summit Daily News
Facing falling ridership and growing travel times, Summit Stage officials are looking to the Colorado Department of Transportation to help fund a study to determine ways to make the transit system more efficient and attractive to riders.
“What we’re hoping to find out is how we can improve the customer experience in terms of streamlining routes, reducing delays, increasing the frequency of the buses and reducing travel time on the bus,” Summit Stage board chair Kent Willis said. “One of the things we need to look at is current trends in ridership patterns so we can figure out where the needs really are and where they’re going to be in the next three to five years.”
The $70,000 would be funded in part by a $35,000 grant from CDOT. Summit County towns and the Summit Stage are pooling their money to try to come up with the remaining $30-35,000 for the project.
“Yes, it is going to be an expensive study, but the stage board needs to make sure that we are getting the correct information in an objective, scientific way,” Willis said in response to comments from citizens that a public forum would provide the information for a lot less money.
Officials said they hope to hear a decision on the grant award by the end of the month.
The study is intended to determine ways to improve customers’ experience on the Summit Stage through enhanced service on the busiest routes (currently those from Frisco to Breckenridge and Keystone to Silverthorne), faster travel times and a simplified route structure that would make the system more “user friendly.”
But riders have their own priorities when it comes to potential improvements to the transit system. In a Summit Daily online discussion, some called for a year-round Swan Mountain Flyer, others a route to Vail. Many just wanted to see more frequent buses, better schedules and more sustainable practices.
“I hear and observe the idling Summit Stage diesel engines for 30-90 minutes at a stretch in River Run,” Suzanne Brannon stated online. “Spending money on fuel to go nowhere has got to add up.”
Though plans for the study are still fairly abstract, Willis said he does hope to look at opportunities for improvements that would reduce the system’s environmental impact.
In May, the Stage served just over 83,000 riders, down 11.5 percent from the same month in 2010. And as of May, the busy route between Frisco and Breckenridge served an average of 36 riders per hour, year to date, while the Keystone to Silverthorne route had 44 riders per hour on average year to date. Both numbers showed a decline in ridership from last year.
The Summit Stage’s study is among 10 applications vying for approximately $300,000 in federal transit dollars earmarked and distributed by CDOT for local research and planning. The project stands a “fairly good chance of being funded,” said CDOT officials tasked with reviewing the application.
Breckenridge, Frisco and the Summit Stage have committed to chipping in to help fund the study locally. Willis said the Stage board will ask the towns of Dillon and Silverthorne to contribute as well.
If funded, the study will likely begin by November and be completed early next year.
The study may provide suggestions and even phases for implementing changes, but real action to improve the Summit Stage will depend on the community’s priorities, according to Willis.
“The Stage and the towns are going to have to work together to develop the political will to start implementing the recommended changes and improvements that will be coming out of this study,” he said. “It’s going to take some time, and it’s going to take some work.”
One matter of debate in recent weeks has been the structure of the Summit Stage administration, which is currently left to the transit board, made up of nine members representing the county, towns and ski resorts. Though the study will not look directly at alternative organizational structures for the transit board, it may provide insights that will indicate the potential viability of a different system, such as a formation of a new transit-taxing district that would effectively separate the Stage from the county government.
“The organizational structure of the stage will be examined at the time we start looking at implementing the study,” Willis said.
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