Bus fares floated at Steamboat Springs City Council work session
Steamboat Springs — A Steamboat Springs City Councilwoman suggested Tuesday night the city might need to introduce fares on local buses to compensate for an expected loss in federal transportation dollars.
“I’m willing to pay to play,” Councilwoman Kathi Meyer said referring to the addition of bus fares.
Meyer said she doesn’t expect free transit when she visits other cities such as New Orleans or Denver, and she would be open to the idea of introducing fares on city buses here in Steamboat.
She added technology is making it easier for people to pay fares.
Councilman Scott Ford indicated he’d be opposed to adding fares because it would likely bring ridership down and make the bus service less cost effective.
The introduction of fares would also inevitably slow the bus routes down because of a need for passengers to pay.
Other council members did not weigh in on the idea.
Transit Manager Jonathan Flint struck a neutral tone when discussing the prospect of reintroducing fares to city buses.
He did tell the council that if it ever did decide to introduce fares, it would need to be sure about the decision because the step would require a significant capital investment upfront.
The discussion about new revenue opportunities for Steamboat Springs Transit came after Flint told the council he is currently anticipating the city might soon see its level of annual funding from the federal government for vehicle acquisition reduced by 40 to 60 percent.
“Our $500,000 (grant) would move down to something like $200,000,” Flint said.
The council asked Flint what he would do if the “transit fairy” arrived and gave him a gift of $200,000.
Instead of investing in new routes or an expansion of service, Flint said he would have SST hold onto that money to help cover the cost of vehicle replacement and refurbishment.
The bus service has plans to replace two-thirds of its fleet between 2019 and 2024
SST charged fares on local buses from 1979 to 1995 before all local buses became free to rider.
The fare in 1979 was 25 cents.
City Manager Gary Suiter, who has served as a consultant for transportation agencies in the past, noted that several bus providers without fares have pondered the idea of introducing them, while bus providers who have fares have at the same time considered getting rid of theirs.
Meyer said she would not suggest a fare structure that would aim to completely recover the cost of the service.
Council’s discussion of the future of the bus service came during a work session that also focused on the city’s parking needs.
Council President Walter Magill renewed his call for a test of parking meters on numbered downtown streets.
A handful of other council members said they weren’t opposed to the idea but also weren’t ready to pursue the option.
Ford said the city’s parking problems are limited to certain times of the year on very busy days.
Councilman Tony Connell suggested the city should include $1.5 million in its budget to acquire land for more surface parking spaces in the downtown corridor.
He noted that some private lots the city is currently utilizing for public parking, such as the lot next to the old Yampa Valley Electric Association headquarters, will likely be gone soon after redevelopment takes place.
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