Summit Stage hit hard by rising fuel costs
summit daily news
SUMMIT COUNTY ” The Summit Stage has taken a significant budget hit from rising fuel prices and will likely be forced to dip into its reserves to cover fuel costs for the rest of the budget year, through Dec. 31.
“It’s put quite a strain on us. We’re out of fuel money for the year,” said Summit Stage director John Jones. The budget for this year included $335,000 for fuel but the Stage has already spent $479,000, Jones said.
Fuel costs for August were up 23.5 percent from last month, and were 51 percent higher than in August 2004, according to Jones. The cost of diesel currently sits at $2.65 per gallon, with Stage buses gulping about 20,000 gallons annually. Jones anticipates budgeting $540,000 for fuel costs in 2006, out of an annual operating budget of about $5.1 million (2005).
Jones said he doesn’t expect relief any time soon. Even though the price of gasoline may drop in the coming months, some of the refineries coming back on line will be producing more gasoline than diesel fuel, keeping the price of the latter relatively high, Jones explained.
The cost of fuel is also the key factor in the Summit Stage’s decision not operate a direct Keystone to Breckenridge route (sometimes known as the ski express or K-A-B) this year. Vail Resorts had approached Stage officials with a request to help provide the service for this coming season, but Jones said that option is out of the question now.
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“It’s a funding issue, not a policy issue,” said assistant county manager Thad Noll, formerly transportation director for Vail Resorts.
“We just can’t do it this year. It’s not in our budget,” Noll said.
Jones said Vail Resorts asked the Stage to provide several buses per day for the service this year, at an estimated cost of about $200,000-$250,000 to Summit Stage.
Vail Resorts, which had been providing that link between its resorts, is also looking to hold the line on fuel costs, said Breckenridge and Keystone chief operating officer Roger McCarthy.
“I think, you know, we’re running transportation and we’re the only resort that’s doing it. It’s all been on our neck,” McCarthy said. “Given the cost of fuel, we needed to make some changes … we need someone else to pick up part of the tab.”
McCarthy said Vail Resorts ran the service last year in large part to help provide transportation for Breckenridge employees living in resort housing at Keystone. With the Breckenridge housing back on line, that need has been eliminated, he said. The Keystone-Breckenridge route has carried as many as 90,000 passengers annually, but last year, that number was down to about 10,000, with only two runs per day, McCarthy said.
Vail Resorts will also discontinue the Vail-Summit County bus service it has offered in recent years, McCarthy said.
The back-and-forth over the direct Keystone-Breckenridge service has been ongoing during the past several years, Noll said. In fact, the Summit Stage operations plan includes provisions for that route as part its mission to enhance overall service. The direct route between the two resorts serves not only visiting skiers and snowboarders, but also local commuters. It’s an important connection for the county, Noll said, explaining that the route will now require a Summit Stage transfer in Frisco, which will add about 25 minutes to the trip.
The Keystone-Breckenridge service was scaled back in recent years, Noll said, explaining that, at one time, buses ran as frequently as every 45 minutes. The service was down to just morning and afternoon runs last winter.
The decision on the Keystone-Breckenridge ski express will be formally announced at the Summit Stage board meeting today at 1:30 p.m. at the Summit County Community and Senior Center at the County Commons near Frisco. The board also hopes to finalize winter schedules at the meeting.
Among the planned changes is a direct route from Summit Cove to A-Basin, via Keystone. Noll said the Stage staff still needs to run that idea past the board, but he said the trip should only take about half an hour.
Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228 or email@example.com.
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