Passenger totals dip about 13 percent for the year, revenue down by $1 million from 2008, but the local transit agency fared better than some others around the state
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Summit Stage ridership took another big hit in December, As the number of passengers dropped about 34 percent from the same month in 2008, according to director John Jones, who delivered a preliminary year-end report at a meeting of the Summit County transit board this week. Even the late-night numbers were down in December, Jones said. In December 2008, Summit Stage buses transported 287,064 passengers, in 2009, it was just 189,790 passengers.
To illustrate the drop, Jones gave some single-day numbers. In previous busy years, Stage buses carried more than 13,000 passengers on peak days like New Years Eve. On New Years Eve 2009, the biggest day of the month, the total was 10,324. For Dec. 30, the total was just more than 8,000 riders. Every other day of the month, the tally was under 8,000.
“Those are almost summer numbers,” he said, adding that, in 2008, the number of daily passengers never dipped below 10,000 between Dec. 17 through the end of the year.
November 2009, generally not a big month, was also down by about 10 percent from the previous year.
“In the current economy, people just aren’t coming,” Jones said.
For the entire year, Jones said rider numbers dropped by about 13 percent, from 2.19 million in 2008 to 1.89 million in 2009. Revenues for 2009, collected via a sales tax across the county and in local towns, was down by just more than $1 million (16.3 percent) from the previous year.
That was the bad news. On the other hand, Jones said that service and staff cuts enacted early enough helped the transit agency finish the year without going too far into red ink. When the final accounting is done, the numbers may still end up in the black, he said.
The Stage will cut back on service again in the summer, anticipating another slow season. Jones said that, at this point, he doesn’t envision any more staff cuts, but wouldn’t rule out the possibility of additional lay-offs completely.
“We’re actually doing pretty good compared to other transit agencies … We’ve had to cut less service than Eagle, they cut service by 35 percent and Denver cut service by 30 percent and had a 25 percent fare increase,” Jones said. Some other transit agencies around the state had to lay off more employees than the Stage, he added.
In partnership with Lake County, the Stage also started running buses to Leadville Jan. 3. The new service is off to a slow start, he said. The route may be adjusted to pick up passengers at a mobile home park in Leadville and the state came up with a little more money to help with marketing the service, he added.
There have been requests for additional service in Summit County, including an extension of late-night service and some new stops in the Keystone area, after the resort cut back its transit services at the start of the ski season. but Jones said the agency is not in a position to consider adding anything new.
First, the numbers need to climb back somewhere near 2007 levels, and nobody is expecting that to happen anytime soon. At best, Jones said he expects a rebound in the second half of 2011.
Other members of the transit board agreed.
“Wall Street? Bless ’em. The banks? Go, go, but millions of people are still out of work,” said County Commissioner Bob French, adding that local business won’t get rolling again until the national economy goes into a growth mode.