Vail Valley bus riders fight fare increases
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado – Mike Kipferl of Gypsum said he isn’t sure he could handle an ECO Transit bus fare increase.
Kipferl, who takes the bus each day to get to his job working construction, said fare hikes would mean he’d be spending almost $200 a month on passes.
“Right now, I can’t afford that with the low economy and not much work out there,” Kipferl said.
Local workers and employers implored the Eagle County Board of Commissioners to not raise bus fares at a public meeting Tuesday – even as the county transit system is facing a $1.5 million shortfall through the end of the year.
Matt Jones, of Vail Resorts, the largest employer in Eagle County, said the county should dip into its reserve funds instead of increasing fares.
Vail and Beaver Creek mountains subsidized about 2,100 passes for employees over the last year, Jones said.
“These are the lifeblood of our workforce and the ones that typically make the least amount of money in the least desirable jobs,” Jones said. “It’s hitting the ones who make the least amount of money. We’re going to hit them the hardest.”
Sales tax revenues, which supply 80 percent of ECO Transit’s money, dropped significantly beginning in January. That has left the county looking for ways to make up for those funds.
Some riders suggested that ECO Transit reduce service on some routes. Transit officials have already discussed eliminating the Vail-Beaver Creek route as well as some service to Leadville and Dotsero.
“It’s all about money,” said Commissioner Peter Runyon. “We’re between a rock and a hard place. We all hope that this is going to be a temporary situation and tourists are going to be flooding back.”
Runyon suggested a temporary, additional sales tax of 0.1 or 0.2 percent with a term of up to three years to supplement ECO’s revenue. That would have to be approved by voters.
Eagle County also has to figure out how to make ECO Transit sustainable in the long run, Runyon said.
Kaye Ferry, of Vail, suggested that Eagle County consider putting a sales tax increase in front of voters to ask for additional funding for the long run. There is already a half-percent sales tax that helps fund ECO Transit.
Bud Elliott, mayor of Leadville, said ECO shouldn’t expect to be self-sufficient.
“No transportation in the whole world is self-sustaining. None of them are,” Elliott said. “To think that ECO is going to be may have been very, very wishful thinking.”
ECO’s financial woes shouldn’t be resolved “on the backs of the working poor,” he said.
Elliott suggested that business owners should contribute to a solution.
“These are the people that can’t take a hit at $100, $150, $200 a month added to their transportation costs to come to a pretty lousy job, working at Wal-Mart and a lot of lodging facility and restaurant facilities that are great for the consumers, but are not career opportunities.”
Many Eagle County workers live in Leadville and commute to Vail or Beaver Creek.
The next ECO Transit board meeting is July 15.
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