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Home arrow News arrow Summer bus and air expansion likely with RTA grants
Summer bus and air expansion likely with RTA grants Print
Written by Mark Reaman   
Wednesday, 16 October 2013
CB South service, summer Houston flights, GUC vouchers?

Two significant grants that were awarded recently to the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) could result in expanded bus and air service in the county next summer. A new bus route that includes stops in Crested Butte South is likely, as is a direct summer flight from Houston to the Gunnison airport, GUC.

 

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RTA executive director Scott Truex told the RTA board Friday, October 11, that the money expanding new air service was granted from the federal Department of Transportation but because of the recent government shutdown, a contract has not yet been received. He said he and RTA air consultant Kent Myers were beginning to “work on a program we hope will be successful next summer.”
“United has been alerted that we want to begin discussions about this new summer flight out of Houston,” added Myers. “There are a lot of moving parts with this right now.”
“It is a matching grant and the RTA doesn’t have unlimited funds,” RTA chairperson Chris Morgan reminded the board.
“That’s why we want to make it a success,” said Truex.
Under the grant, the feds have awarded $350,000 over two years. The RTA is obligated to match that $175,000 per-year cost. Truex and Myers are working to set up a plan with United Airlines that provides the lowest possible risk scenario.
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Myers said Pamela Loughman of the Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association has also been aware of the situation to provide marketing advice. Truex said a plan is being formulated to make those visitors coming in this winter on the ski season flight from Houston aware that there will be a summer option for them in 2014.
Morgan, a councilman in Mt. Crested Butte, along with some others on the RTA board have expressed concern that spending money to help a new summer flight could potentially hurt winter flights by reducing the funds available for airline guarantees. Jeff Moffett of Community Flights, CBMR’s air consultant, requested specifics of the potential winter impacts. He asked if Truex could provide a best-case and worst-case scenario of spending money on the new summer flight.
“The biggest impact might be in 2015 in a worst-case scenario,” said board member Aaron Huckstep.

Crested Butte South bus service
Meanwhile, Truex reported that at last month’s Colorado Association of Transit Agencies Conference, the RTA was awarded a percentage increase in its state grant larger than any other Colorado transit agency. The local RTA will receive $181,650 from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), which is up from about $148,000.
“I think, given the source of the money, we have an obligation to increase our summer service. So I am proposing we try running six roundtrip routes a day between Mt. Crested Butte and Gunnison during the busy summer weeks (up from three) and include a stop in the Crested Butte South subdivision on those routes,” Truex said. “We can divert the buses running up and down the valley into Crested Butte South and see if bus service into Crested Butte South really works with regular service. Three trips have proven not to work. But six trips could be a lot better.”
Truex said preliminary talks with Alpine Express, the bus company operating the valley shuttle, have indicated the diversion would be possible and would cost about $4,600. The idea is to start the service June 28 and run it through August 10.
“This is taxpayer money and it will help service the taxpayers,” said Morgan. “It’s always hard to get people to ride a bus when it’s not convenient. This sounds like it would definitely make it more convenient.”
“Our community is fully behind such a plan,” said Crested Butte South Property Owners Association manager Dom Eymere. “I definitely think we would all see the ridership from Crested Butte South increase with this.”
Crested Butte South POA board chairman Dan Marshall agreed. “We have talked about this a long time and really want to see this succeed,” he said. “We understand we will need to educate our residents. I think the safety issue is a prime benefit.”
The original idea was to bring the bus to the Crested Butte South office area. Other suggestions included running it by the fire hall. Truex said such details could be ironed out before spring.
“It seems to be more and more parents are comfortable putting their kids on a bus to get them from one destination to another, like the rec center or the towns,” said RTA board member Jonathan Houck. “This money is coming from our bus operating grant and is meant to help provide good, reliable service.”
“For as long as I have been on this board and as much time as we have talked about this over and over, it is a relief to see something concrete,” said board member William Buck.
Truex cautioned the board about expecting such service 365 days a year. “Doing it these six weeks doesn’t necessarily mean we can do it in the winter,” he said. “Those winter buses running up and down the valley are already full. But this will give us a good look at things and we can gather a lot of data and see how it all works.
“This is a meaningful step with a small cost,” concluded Houck.

GUC incentives?
The RTA board is continuing to discuss the idea of “buying down” some air tickets that originate from the Gunnison-Crested Butte airport. One suggestion is to allocate $50,000 toward $100 discounts that would reduce the price of a ticket out of GUC.
“We are looking for ways to encourage people to use our air service,” said Morgan.
CBMR general manager Ethan Mueller said his company was looking at trying to shore up the Gunnison air service. “The Denver numbers are lagging for the upcoming winter compared to the Houston and Dallas flights,” he said. “It’s only October but you are only as good as your weakest link. We are looking at supporting Denver with a ‘buy-down’ and think the RTA should consider it as well.”
CBMR’s air service consultants, Moffett and Scott Stewart of Community Flights told the board that it appears “four out of five local people use airports other than Gunnison when flying.” Stewart said, “Vouchers might get people to start reconsidering Gunnison as an origination airport for their flights.”
Mueller said the resort was putting aside some marketing funds to make people aware of the idea.
“Incentives are clearly something that works,” said Mueller, citing the popular buy-two-get-one-ticket-free promotion that the resort and Mt. Crested Butte jointly fund for December travel with American Airlines. “Other resorts like Jackson use them very effectively as well.”
Mueller said something has to change with the air program since, “As our commitment increases, our returns have been decreasing, with fewer seats. We need to flip that trend,” he said.
Moffett warned that if the Denver flights didn’t get stronger, the airport could see major reductions with perhaps one flight a day all year-round. “The concern is fewer total seats coming in here next winter,” he said.
“We will look at our finances and take a look at it at the next meeting,” promised Morgan.

 
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