Entities gather to discuss details of public transit expansion
Officials with various entities around Grand County held detailed discussions this week on the possibility of expanding the operating area of The Lift.
The town of Winter Park made a presentation during a county transit workshop held by the Grand County Board of County Commissioners, joined by officials from the towns of Winter Park, Fraser, Granby, and Middle Park Medical Center.
The workshop focused around the presentation made by Winter Park Town Manager Drew Nelson, who detailed specifics of the transit system and proposed cost sharing methods for potential expansion. It also acted as a means for the county commissioners to better understand how the system works.
Nelson said that summer ridership numbers in Winter Park are up 20 percent from last year, and that eventual expansion could be necessary as the town and county continue to grow.
“If the plan is to grow, the system will have to grow as well,” he said.
The Lift currently services Winter Park and Fraser, and has routes into Granby in the winter. The service is owned by Winter Park, though it has operated in cooperation with Fraser since Winter Park replaced the Winter Park Resort system in 2015.
On Wednesday the Fraser Board of Trustees approved a resolution authorizing Mayor Philip Vandernail to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with Winter Park for transit services, which would formally establish financial commitments and responsibilities once finalized.
Finances were the major topic of conversation at the county workshop. Last year Fraser paid upward of $470,000 for the service, which is currently being subsidized by Winter Park. Winter Park pays completely for the winter routes into Granby.
Nelson said that the system has averaged about half a million riders a year since Nov. 2015, and that The Lift carried its one-millionth passenger earlier this summer. The yearly cost of operation is about $2.5 million based around 30,000 hours of service.
Nelson added that there are several soft costs that are not included in that number, including capital costs like new busses, administrative and marketing fees, and the new rider app. But with the investments Winter Park has made such as buying new busses instead of leasing from First Transit, who operates the service, they have been able to drop rider costs by more that 45 cents per rider since 2015.
Winter Park and Fraser raise money for the service primarily through sales taxes, which residents of both towns voted to raise for transit and trail services in 2015. Winter Park’s two percent tax raises just under $2 million a year in revenue for the service while Fraser’s one percent raises just over $500,000.
The service also received a $150,000 operating grant from the federal government, though Winter Park Mayor Jimmy Lahrman said that the town budgets for the eventual removal or shrinking of that grant due to a waning pool of federal subsidies. Winter Park has contracts with a number of homeowner associations that add over $90,000 a year for the service as well.
Winter Park’s capital investments have set the transit system up to be sustainable for the coming years between Fraser and Winter Park, as both municipalities expect revenues to continue to increase and costs to decrease.
At the Fraser Board of Trustees meeting Wednesday night Town Manager Jeff Durbin said that Fraser had finally turned a corner with financing the service, and will land firmly in the black at the end of this year after 20 months of climbing out of debt.
But for the service to grow Winter Park said it will have to come as part of a “pay to play” system, wherein Grand County and Granby start funding percentages of routes that leave the Fraser Valley.
Nelson said cost allocation for routes could be based on a number of variables including the time busses are out of the Winter Park area, the number of stops or number of miles. The methods to determine allocation of costs will be determined based on what makes the most sense on any individual route.
County Commissioner Richard Cimino said splitting costs at a 50/50 clip could be troublesome for the county, but said it was an opportunity for private businesses such as City Market, Middle Park Medical Center and the YMCA to become stakeholders in the system by sharing costs with Granby or the county.
In the presentation Winter Park gave a proposed cost sharing model for the 2017-18 routes. It had Winter Park fronting a majority of the costs for routes at just over $1.2 million, Fraser at $406,329, Grand County at $250,120 and Granby at $20,978.
Winter Park pays for new busses, administrative fees, marketing and the new app and passes the capital savings onto others stakeholders who primarily pay for routes.
Nelson said that the construction of a new transit facility is also a priority in the coming years. Currently busses that require major maintenance must be taken down to Denver and driven back to Winter Park. Winter Park is already saving for a new $10 million dollar facility, banking about $300,000 a year from payments made by Winter Park Resort for the service.
Winter routes for The Lift have already been finalized, and are essentially the same as last years with the exception of an added stop behind Hideaway Park near Sawmill Station in Winter Park. The winter season begins Nov. 1.
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