Transit committee backs return of late-night bus service
The Transit Advisory Committee overseeing the transfer of a local bus system from Winter Park Resort to the Town of Winter Park is recommending the town reverse its recent curtailment of late-night bus service after hearing from concerned residents.
The committee, which includes representatives from Winter Park Resort, Fraser, the Town of Winter Park and First Transit, which operates the system, heard public comment on the recent decision to end bus service at 11:30 p.m. through the week rather than 2:30 a.m. at its Monday evening, May 2, meeting at Winter Park Town Hall.
Around 30 people including residents and local business owners attended the meeting.
Winter Park Town Manager Drew Nelson said discussions concerning what level of service to maintain through mud season had been ongoing for the last two months.
After residents contacted the town with concerns, First Transit Manager Mike Fudge looked into the costs of extending service hours on the weekends.
“As of right now our estimate for the remainder of the season, or spring schedule, is about 100 to 120 hours of service depending on overages,” Nelson said. “We view that to be a fairly accurate number of what the additional, we’ll call it expense, would be.”
That equates to cost between $8,000 and $10,000.
Fudge said the system picked up 44 passengers between midnight and 2 a.m. on Friday, April 29, and 11 passengers during the same period on Saturday.
“If you take that cost its pretty high per passenger,” Fudge said.
Nelson said the decision to curtail late-night service stemmed from a survey distributed to members of the Winter Park-Fraser Chamber of Commerce.
“Overwhelmingly, there was support in that survey for ending the service a little bit earlier,” Nelson said. “However, a lot of those businesses were not late night business.”
Ullr’s Tavern co-owner Jerod LaChance said late-night service was a public safety issue.
“It’s kind of embarassing for yourself and for your town when at 12:30 p.m. you have to give people the option of walking your butt two miles home in the dark or taking a chance drinking and driving,” LaChance said. “Those are just not good options.”
LaChance added that maintaining late-night service may encourage some businesses that are considering staying open later to take the plunge.
“We want to stay open,” LaChance said. “We want to help create a better nightlife and a better economy, but we kind of need help with some infrastructure in order to do that.”
Justin Bontranger, general manager at The Peak Bistro and Brewery, said he agree with LaChance.
“The potential for this town to grow during the off season is the whole focus of this meeting, of us having this conversation,” Bontranger said.
The system needs to provide consistent service so that visitors can rely on it, he said.
Committee member and Fraser Town Manager Jeff Durbin said the committee needed to balance the needs of the community with its budgetary constraints.
“Everybody wants a bus at their front door if they can get it,” Durbin said. “We just can’t afford to do that so balancing all of this is just the big picture environment that we have to operate in.”
Nelson added that the committee hadn’t planed to offer late-night service when it first formed.
The committee voted unanimously to recommend that the town continue late-night bus service through May.
Hank Shell can be reached at 970-557-6010.
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