The Mountain Village Town Council announced last week that two local companies had responded to a Request for Proposals. Based on those responses, and with feedback from Dial-A-Ride task force members, council decided to request a contract from the local taxi service Telluride Express.
As Mayor Bob Delves explained to council on Thursday, the municipality believed it could achieve significant cost savings if it contracted with a private sector operator to run the free, town-funded transportation service. Under this new arrangement, the service will remain free to its riders, and Telluride Express will bill the town for every ride provided at a pre-negotiated rate.
Service options could be expanded to include pre-scheduled rides and transportation beyond Mountain Village borders.
Explaining the potential cost savings to the town, Delves said in a press release, “We currently pay for DAR by the hour, not by the ride. Idle time equals idle drivers. A private service operator will charge by the ride and absorbs idle time. They also have a different business model and wage scale, and accept tips.”
The savings to Mountain Village won’t be determined until the end of the ski season, when final ride numbers have been compiled. Regardless, the town will no longer fund Dial-A-Ride after the ski area closes on April 7, 2013, due to budgetary constraints caused by significant declines in property tax revenues.
The town has operated Dial-A-Ride since 1996, providing free point-to-point transportation within the town’s borders. The service has historically been paid for out of the town’s general fund, at a cost of approximately $550,000 per year.
In recent years, the town council has expressed the view that the service, which is available only to Mountain Village property owners, is more of a homeowner amenity as opposed to a municipal transportation service (renters in Big Billie’s and Village Court Apartments cannot use the service.) Therefore, the town government believes it would be more appropriate for the Telluride Mountain Village Owners Association to fund the service.
Mountain Village Council Member Dan Jansen said the move to a private sector operator, and ultimately not funding the service at all, offers Dial-A-Ride’s best chance at surviving the currently rocky financial landscape.
“With the budgetary pressures we’re facing I don’t see how it would survive” if it were to continue as a municipal service, Jansen explained at Thursday’s council meeting. “We will strongly encourage TMVOA to consider funding it, as a great amenity to provide to its homeowners.”
TMVOA president Jonathan Greenspan said this week that he is cautiously optimistic that the homeowner’s association board could have a proposal to take over Dial-A-Ride funding by the spring, but there are a number of factors that will determine what that proposal looks like.
“As one of the two residential representatives in this community, I think it should live… but it has to be cost-neutral,” he said, explaining that while he believes it does belong under the purview of TMVOA, the organization will need to identify dedicated funding mechanisms to make it work. “To take it out of the general fund right now is not a good idea, because that would sacrifice something else in a budget that’s already stripped down as it is. It needs its own dedicated revenue source,” he said.
That could consist of a special transportation fee for all HOA members, or a rise in assessments, to keep the service similar to how it is currently run, he said. The board will look at a number of options, including a tiered system, which would charge property owners based on how many rides they use.
“There are a lot of details out there that need to be looked at before a final plan is in place, but I believe I’ve heard from a lot of people that it’s worth $200 to $400 a year [per household] to keep it,” Greenspan said, adding that TMVOA will need to continue to hear from its constituents as it formulates a plan for continued funding of DAR.
TMVOA will be sending an electronic survey to all classes this week, and Greenspan urges everyone to respond.