The Summit Stage was awarded $35,000 to fund an extensive future needs study that could look at, among other things, ways to streamline routes and reduce delays, Stage officials announced Thursday.
The grant from the Colorado Department of Transportation, which will have to be matched locally, will help cover the expenses of the study to be conducted during the winter season.
“This study is needed because the Summit Stage is facing a number of service capacity issues now and in the near future,” Stage board president Kent Willis said in an email. “The study will allow us to address the current and future needs and growth of the Stage in a proactive manner instead of reacting to problems after they have occurred, which is never as efficient or satisfactory.”
The study will confront ongoing problems in the Summit Stage's service, from falling ridership to increases in expenses and to political discord over an internal Frisco loop. The service is also experiencing growing route times, which inconveniences riders.
“Actual travel times are increasing on the Frisco to Breckenridge route and the Silverthorne to Keystone route due to increased number of stops on these routes, traffic and ridership patterns,” Willis said. “Because it takes longer to travel these routes, our service is not as convenient to our riders as it used to be, which adversely affects ridership numbers. In addition, the Stage is receiving requests for additional services, such as a bus to Blue River. This study is needed in order to determine the best way to address these problems.”
The $70,000 study, which will include feedback from riders, is a starting point for the Summit Stage, allowing officials to take stock of the transit service before confronting serious questions regarding the funding, future service and administrative structure of the system.
Among those questions are requests for service from the towns of Blue River and Heeney, both of which have asked to be included in the system.
Facing a $500,000 budget shortfall next year, Stage officials are also considering asking voters for a .25 percent increase in the transit tax.
Another possibility on the table is a complete restructuring of the Summit Stage administration. Currently a division of the county government funded by taxes, officials are contemplating the idea of transforming the Stage into a rural transit authority, a move that would mean breaking with county government to establish an independent system.