City council weighs future of bus service in Steamboat

Scott Franz

— The city of Steamboat Springs will soon reach out to the local college, hospital and ski area to see if they will help pay for a free-to-rider bus system that benefits their students and employees.

The Steamboat Springs City Council ordered the outreach to these entities and any other potential funding partners Tuesday night during a lengthy discussion about the future of bus service in the city.

“You can’t increase the (bus) service until you increase your local funding options,” Council member Walter Magill said.

He said the city needs to stop providing the local bus service for free, and it wasn’t the city’s job to “provide free transit to jobs at the base area.”

The council decided to hold off on making the bigger decision of whether to restore winter bus service here until it has more data and information from city staff.

The service here was cut significantly in the winter because of driver recruiting challenges.

The cuts were also made to try and save more than $140,000 in personnel and operating costs.

Saying the changes negatively impacted them, several community members asked the city to restore the service.

They’ll have to wait at least two more weeks to learn whether that will happen.

During a lengthy discussion, the council debated how much of a core service bus service is for a municipality and how best to fund it in the future.

Council members discussed a wide array of transit funding options, ranging from the reintroduction of passenger fares to a dedicated sales tax.

The council thought pursuing the potential funding partnerships with local businesses that benefit from the city’s transit system was a good first step.

Asked by the council about financial contributions from outside entities, Steamboat Springs Transit Manager Jonathan Flint said Colorado Mountain College has pitched in for the bus service in the past, but was not able to provide a contribution this year.

As the city approaches the potential funding partners, some council members are ready to hit the gas on new driver recruiting efforts and restore bus service to the level it was before the winter cuts.

Sonja Macys, who emerged as a leading proponent of restoring service, said the city was “cannibilizing itself” by defunding transit.

However, her motions to restore service to the 2013-2014 winter season level did not gain enough traction on Tuesday.

A majority of the council wants to look at potential bus route efficiencies before making that decision.

They also want to hear from city staff about their goals for on-time performance and the cost per rider on routes.

Council member Kenny Reisman said he could not support restoring the service levels until he knows what the city’s goals are for the future.

The council will continue its discussion about the future of the bus service and alternative funding sources at its next meeting on May 19.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

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