New study steers Fraser Valley towns toward public transit
Grand County, Colorado
A recent study has Fraser Valley officials eyeing the possibility of converting the existing private, winter-only transit system into a year-round municipal bus service.
However, residents shouldn’t expect the system to change overnight, as there is lot of work yet to be done, according to Winter Park Town Manager Drew Nelson.
The draft Fraser Valley Public Transit System Analysis details how to develop a year-round public bus system that uses “heavy-duty” transit buses instead of the school buses used by the private transit system operated by Intrawest.
Intrawest employs First Transit, a private transportation management company, which supplies service during the ski season and to a limited extent during the rest of the year.
The towns of Winter Park and Fraser contribute funding for evening bus service in their communities during the ski season.
What the town of Winter Park and other stakeholders are examining, and what the $25,000 study prepared by LSC Transportation Consultants of Colorado Springs suggests, is transitioning from that current transit system into a public system, enabling the community to seek federal dollars in order to operate the service.
The study, paid for with grant money supplied by the Colorado Department of Transportation, notes that limited local funding in Grand County prevents a public bus service from operating without state and federal help.
A difficult transition
Winter Park, which already supports transportation in the Fraser Valley to the tune of $500,000 a year, hopes to establish agreements with Intrawest and other stakeholders governing how operations and administration would work for such a change.
“Transitioning to public service is not an easy thing to do,” Nelson cautioned, explaining it involves layers of details and agreements, especially when federal funds are utilized.
Nevertheless, it’s considered the best means of steering the Valley in the direction of year-round reliable service for visitors and residents.
The capital improvement goal outlined in the study would entail replacing busses with more attractive ones, to “enhance the guest experience,” Nelson said.
One fast-track toward this initial goal was to obtain public transportation funding from the state of Colorado to purchase transit buses. The town of Winter Park agreed to put forward $200,000 while it sought $1 million from a dedicated state funding pool.
But that was at a time when the pool had $77.1 million; it has since been reduced to $17 million, narrowing Winter Park’s chances.
This has forced Winter Park to play the waiting game on any funds that may trickle from federal sources.
Nelson said stakeholders at this time are not interested in taxpayers directly funding a free transit system.
The study’s survey results show that 59 percent of those asked would favor a dedicated tax for public transportation in the Fraser Valley.
For now, the focus is to start a municipal transit service and fund it with a combination of local, state and federal money, Nelson said.
The study details how that may be done. It also provides encouragement to public officials by emphasizing that public transportation has support in the Valley.
Survey results show that 68 percent of respondents support public transportation, and 84 percent indicated they would be willing to pay a fare if the new transit system met their needs.
However, the goal of a Valley transit system, Nelson said, would be to keep it free.
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