Morris was struck and killed in the early morning hours of Jan. 15 by a van operated by Telluride Express chartered to transport late-night travelers as part of the Home Safe Program. Immediately following the incident, Telluride Express announced it would no longer continue to provide the service and the program was halted. Under the terms of the agreement that governed Home Safe, both Telluride Express and the Telluride Rotary Foundation, which acts as the program’s nonprofit fiscal sponsor, can opt out of the contract at any time.
At a Monday meeting of the Telluride Marshal Department’s Citizens Advisory Board, a lengthy discussion produced a consensus that there is indeed is a strong public need for the late-night transportation program and that it should continue in some form.
Stu Fraser, speaking as Home Safe facilitator rather than mayor at Monday’s meeting, told the advisory group that the program started in 2003 when it was mainly funded by Telluride’s restaurants, bars and even a beer distributor. That funding faded away, he said, and the governments of San Miguel County, Mountain Village and Telluride took over paying for the program. In the most basic terms, Fraser said the program is funded by the governments by money disbursed to the Telluride Rotary Foundation. Rotary, in turn, has operated the program under a contract with Telluride Express.
Since the program was initiated in 2003, nearly 26,000 riders have used its shuttle service, which provides a safe ride from Telluride’s main street to Eider Creek, Lawson Hill and Mountain Village.
“Initially, the program was focused on tourists,” Fraser said. “When the gondola closed down, they had no way to get to Mountain Village. Over time, we ended up getting more service workers using the program than tourists. And that's OK. The concept is to move people.”
But with the recent tragedy, and Telluride Express dropping out of the contract, Fraser is putting every option on the table to try to continue the program.
“What I am attempting to do is work with Rotary and Telluride Express to get it back on track,” Fraser said. “Not for the winter, but for the summer. It will require a nonprofit and a willing service provider. If we can pull those two together, it will have to be modified so what occurred doesn’t happen again.”
Members of the Citizen’s Advisory Board, which advises and makes recommendations to Telluride Town Council and to town staff, threw out a number of suggestions about how the might be able to continue. Should riders pay a small fee? Can the Town of Telluride operate the service? What is the cost of keeping the gondola operating longer? Can the town use a school district-owned bus to operate the service, with the help of the Telluride Marshal’s Office?
Fraser said there would be hurdles to overcome with each of those ideas, but that he was willing to consider them, nevertheless. What alarmed some board members was the notion that the program is likely to be suspended until summer, even though there are riders needing the service throughout the rest of the winter.
“There is a public need for it,” said Jerry Greene, board chair. “I am disappointed to have it written off for the rest of the winter.”
Greene suggested that by charging a small fee, some of the program’s problems could be solved.
“I see the primary benefit to a small fee is to keep it from being taken advantage of,” Greene said. “I don’t see making a huge revenue stream, but by charging a couple of bucks, it can control the abuses and maybe control the overcrowding.”
Chris Myers, who sits on the board as a town council representative, suggested that somehow the program be run by the town as part of its transit operation. As long as the program is suspended, Myers, the Marshal’s Department will not be able to handle the problem of people needing rides in the dead of winter.
“The landscape has changed significantly,” Myers said. We now have a piece of reality which changed the possibility of this program. There is definitely a need for it. Myself, I would vote to continue it, but in a different form. I am all for public transportation, and for that there should be a fee. Maybe we schedule this for a [town council] work session with the opportunity for the public to comment? See what kind of feedback we get?”
Fraser confirmed on Tuesday that the fate of Home Safe will indeed be on council’s agenda next week.
“We will come up with a solution,” Fraser said. “Home Safe is a situation we are all aware of and we will continue to strive to get this resolved.”
Contact Gus Jarvis at firstname.lastname@example.org