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Options to save Steamboat’s Blue Line, which serves ski area, waning due to budget cuts

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Eliminating the city’s Blue Line transit service would have a ripple effect across the community, according to Steamboat Springs City Council member Sonja Macys.

As the city mulls last ditch options to rescue the Blue Line, which could be lost due to COVID-19-related budget cuts, it was clear Tuesday evening at the council’s regular meeting that the cut is not necessarily something the city wants to pursue. But if no alternatives are agreed upon by the start of budgeting season early next month, the service will be cut.

“Elimination of (the) Blue Line is going to affect businesses other than just Ski Corp.,” said Macys, who sits on the council’s transportation task force created this summer.

Macys, along with council member Michael Buccino, volunteered for the task force to meet with Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp., a major transit stakeholder, to find innovative solutions to the city’s public transportation. Steamboat Springs Deputy City Manager Tom Leeson also sits on the task force.

With general fund revenue declining because of the pandemic, the city plans to cut its transit service by at least 20% beginning this fall. There would be a number of significant changes for passengers, particularly the elimination of service on Sundays and reduced hours of nightly service.

The biggest change would come with the elimination of the Blue and Orange lines. That alone represents 50% of the total proposed reductions.

Elimination of the Blue Line means that all stops between the Stockbridge Transit Center and Steamboat Springs KOA Holiday campground, as well as Third Street to the Meadows Parking Lot, will be served every 20 minutes rather than every 10 minutes. This could have significant impacts on service levels for employees who rely on the bus service, as well as visitors, particularly when these reductions are combined with the reduced capacity on the buses due to COVID-19 safety protocols, Leeson said.

Transit Manager Jonathan Flint said the biggest challenges forcing the Blue Line’s elimination are finding adequate funding, hiring drivers and finding housing for those drivers.

A total of $484,000 would be needed to keep the Blue Line at current service levels. Ski Corp. has pledged to fund 50% of that cost, with the city on the hook for the remaining half.

It was questioned whether or not it’s appropriate for the city to actively engage in fundraising for a distinct, single project. Instead, it was initially suggested the private sector be tapped for the funding.

Buccino voiced his desire to ask other large local businesses, such as Safeway, City Market or Walmart, if they’d put up some of the funds.

“We decided we weren’t going to move in that direction,” said Macys, calling it a “can of worms.”

Council member Heather Sloop said Ski Corp. should be the party responsible for finding partners in funding.

Other more long-term solutions to the city’s transit issues included purchasing electric buses. According to Macys, the resort nixed that idea, calling it a “no-go.”

The city’s upcoming budget retreat will essentially be the final opportunity to change direction on funding for the Blue Line, Council President Jason Lacy said. Otherwise, city staff has already made the recommendation to council for the line’s termination.

“I don’t want to call it dead until we have our budget conversation,” council member Lisel Petis said. “We need to truly look to see if there are any pennies we can pull out of the cushions.”

Aside from discussing the Blue Line, the transportation task force’s continued objective will be to discuss long-term, sustainable funding sources to support transportation needs of the community and the resort. Those potential solutions will be presented to council by the end of 2020.

To reach Bryce Martin, call 970-871-4206 or email bmartin@SteamboatPilot.com.


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