“Save it for today, build it up for tomorrow”
[ By Mark Reaman and Kendra Walker ]
This week, both the Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte town councils approved $60,000 to subsidize the Late Night Taxi service for the coming year. The action covers the expected subsidy needed to keep the service operating for another year.
Running under the auspices of the Mountain Express and run by Alpine Express, the proposed 2022-23 contract is for $210,000, up from $90,000 last year. That figure includes increased operational expenses and would increase the availability from about 300 nights annually to every night of the year. Scheduled bus service ends at 11:30 p.m. and the Taxi runs from about 10 p.m. until 3 a.m. Last year, 3,300 trips were provided.
The plan is to increase the fare for individuals using the Late Night Taxi but the expectation is that there would still be about a $150,000 gap. The service currently costs $10 per customer. The Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) has committed $30,000 while the Mountain Express is providing executive oversight. The two towns agreed to pick up the rest of the shortfall.
Mountain Express managing director Jeremy Herzog told both councils that the service had various funding models over the years and was often overseen by the Bartender’s Association so when the contract came under Mountain Express last year, he tried to implement some more rigid controls and expectations. He noted that extending the bus system instead of operating the Late Night Taxi at this point would be at least two or three times more expensive. “An on-demand van service is more appropriate than more bus service at this time,” he said. “But I do have a long-term vision to own and operate this service.”
His hope is to see continued improvements in the service and more business participation starting next year. “This is one of several long-term regional mobility challenges,” said Herzog. “I don’t think of it as just a ‘Tipsy Taxi’ service. This is an easy mobility challenge to solve and a good example of where government can play a productive role. It is an opportunity to collaborate to solve a challenge.”
Crested Butte thoughts
In Crested Butte the council sentiment on Monday appeared to be to try and not have to address the situation every year and begin to budget regularly to make sure the service is funded.
“It is worth noting that the private market can’t make it work profitably so public support is necessary,” Herzog told the Crested Butte town council.
In her report to the council, Crested Butte town manager Dara MacDonald said, “As a community we allow bars to stay open until 2 a.m. to satisfy the desires of those who enjoy that activity. The disconnect between public transportation options and alcohol service can result in dangerous decisions by patrons such as driving or attempting to walk to their lodging late at night.”
“I agree with that idea that we encourage people to imbibe in our establishments and then leave them on their own. That’s not right,” said councilmember Mallika Magner.
“Having lived in Meridian Lake for a number of years, when I was going to the airport for an early flight, I would see neighbors walking home at 4 in the morning because there was no other option,” said councilmember Gabi Prochaska. “We have a certain responsibility to make sure people can get home safely.”
“In the next year I think we can sell it as an on-demand service to take people everywhere and anywhere in the North Valley,” said Herzog. “It could be used for example by someone wanting to go to a dinner party in Buckhorn which has no public transportation option. There is an opportunity to appeal to a broader audience.”
Bartender’s Association president Mike Knoll of Kochevar’s said the service’s funding history has varied through the years. “It got to the point where the Bartender’s Association couldn’t keep funding this,” he said. “We could perhaps raise $10,000 to contribute if we were lucky. We’re willing to help out, but it’s gotten over our heads.”
“My thinking is that I’m not sure it’s the Bartender’s responsibility,” said mayor Ian Billick. “They can help and that’s great, but this is large enough for us to decide if we should fund it. I support the request and in the future would not look at it as a one-off. We should consider it at budget time and have the discussion as part of transportation.”
“It is something we could also nestle under the Climate Action Plan as it evolves,” added councilmember Beth Goldstone.
“My intention is to move it from a one-year to a three-year contract,” said Herzog. “I hope the contractor can stabilize the service and move to three-years.”
Mt. CB thoughts
The Mt. Crested Butte council on Tuesday agreed that the Late Night Taxi is an important service for the community.
“It’s definitely a public service and safety issue,” said council member Michael Bacani. “We are still a resort town. People come here to let loose and enjoy themselves and we don’t want them taking any unnecessary risks.”
Mayor Nicholas Kempin agreed, “It also seems like Mt. Crested Butte residents benefit greatly from the program, seeing where most of the rides end up. It’s definitely an amenity for our citizens.” According to Herzog, approximately 80% of the Late Night Taxi rides end in Mt. Crested Butte.
Herzog also noted that the service aligns well with Mountain Express’ long-term goals. “We as an organization have a vision to move toward electric vehicles (EV) as soon as possible and with this service, it is feasible. This is a great opportunity for us to play around in the EV space as well.”
The town of Mt. Crested Butte will pool their contributing $60,000 from the transportation allotment of their admissions tax fund. The council requested that Mountain Express report back detailed data regarding fare collections and costs.
Mountain Express also plans to increase Late Night Taxi marketing to build more awareness in the community, and Mt. CB communications and marketing officer Marisa Maudsley requested they share their marketing data. Herzog obliged, “Marketing is going to be a multi-pronged approach. Alpine Express has some hours baked in but we as Mountain Express are open to collaborating with both towns to do more direct marketing and do whatever we think may be effective.”