CB council open to giving private business an opportunity
By Mark Reaman
Admitting that the Late Night Taxi service is more about public safety than public transit, Mountain Express managing director Jeremy Herzog is gathering the needed funding to keep the service going for another 19 months. To pay for the anticipated $366,200 cost of running the taxi through December 31, 2024, Herzog this week collected $116,000 in pledges from both Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte along with $60,000 from the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority (RTA). The remaining $75,000 is anticipated to come from the $10 passenger fare.
Herzog explained that prior to the COVID pandemic the Late Night Taxi was underwritten by the local Bartender’s Association. The organization gave up the service and it was absorbed by Mountain Express which contracted with Alpine Express to run the service. Herzog said that the wee hours taxi service has improved, become more reliable and expanded from approximately 300 days a year to 365. “It is a lot better than a year ago, but it is still not a perfect service,” Herzog told the Crested Butte council at its May 15 meeting. He said a new training program has been implemented and “in-demand” software is being investigated.
While the annual cost of the service runs about $228,000 annually Herzog said that translates to about $60 per passenger. “This is pretty expensive,” he admitted. “But this is about public safety and not public transit.”
Data for the taxi service that runs from 10 p.m. until 3 a.m. indicates that all trips originate in Crested Butte. It is meant to primarily transport those that have been drinking alcohol from the bars and restaurants back to their homes or to their hotels. More than 75% of the trips go to Mt. Crested Butte while 24% end up at places in Gunnison County like CB South or Buckhorn Ranch.
Crested Butte mayor Ian Billick told Herzog the council could not allocate the money at that particular meeting since the request was not noticed on the agenda, but council could provide strong direction for where the council landed on the issue.
Last year the town contributed $46,000 to the Late Night Taxi for five months of service.
Herzog said the $116,000 contribution would help fund 19 months and was basically a 9% increase reflecting inflation.
Councilmember Anna Fenerty wondered if a private business that might be interested could step in after the 19-month contract was signed as she had heard there was possible interest from a small local start-up venture to handle the service.
Herzog said he has known of four or five such people to give the service a try and none lasted long given the situation and weekday lags in revenue. Herzog noted there could be a 90-day out from the contract.
“It is a huge public safety issue,” noted councilmember Gabi Prochaska.
“I’m not sure what else we can do,” added councilmember Mallika Magner.
“It is very expensive for what we get per passenger,” said councilmember Jason MacMillan. “But it is needed. We need to figure out a better way.”
“At $365,000, that would be good money for two drivers,” said Billick.
Council voted 5-1 to enact a budget amendment to provide Herzog’s request for the needed funds for the Late Night Taxi. Councilmember Chris Haver was not at the meeting and Billick voted against it but assured Herzog he would vote for it at the next meeting when the actual allocation was considered.
The Mt. Crested Butte council heard from Herzog on Tuesday, May 16, and directed town staff to check with the finance department to make sure the funds work with the town’s budget, and plan to consider a budget amendment to provide the requested funds.
“Do you envision after this next contract period Mountain Express being able to internally take this operation over?” asked council member Steve Morris.
“I hope so,” replied Herzog. “A lot of things have to come into play to make that work, funding for these vehicles, increase staffing levels…but I see a relative possibility that that could occur.”