The San Miguel Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) waived all route fares at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as they’re still running routes for free.

Officials discussed the possibility of bringing back fees during SMART’s regular meeting Thursday afternoon.

“When do we want to think about going back to charging fares?” asked Todd Brown, SMART chair and Telluride mayor pro tem.

No definitive timeline was decided upon, but it’s something executive director David Averill has discussed with San Miguel County Public Health Director Grace Franklin.

“I know that’s been something that we can put out there. Potentially that might reduce some riders; maybe, maybe not. We’re going to take any direction from the board. I know David had a conversation with Grace Franklin, and she’s OK with us turning fares back on. We eliminated that due to covid, but it’s something that other agencies have brought back, and we just haven’t yet.” Erich Lange, SMART operations & senior planner, said.

Averill added that his mulled when to reinstitute fares, and Jan. 1, 2021, may be a good date to do it, if not sooner. 

“Anybody feel strongly about continuing to operate without fares?” Brown asked.  

Kris Holstrom, County commissioner and SMART vice chair, proposed gradually bringing back rider fees since there is still a 50 percent capacity limit, per current county public health orders. 

“I wonder if we can consider phasing it in because we have limited capacity. I think if you get people to used to paying nothing they’re never going to want to pay again,” she said.

SMART currently doesn’t have a contactless system to accept credit or debit cards; only cash or vouchers are currently accepted. Averill said he wants to make brining fares back “as exciting as possible,” though he and the board members understand that people may still be feeling the economic effects of the pandemic. Talks about creating an annual pass ended with Averill explaining that the numbers need to be explored more.

“An annual pass may be a great thing, you just flash it and you don’t have to touch anything,” he said.

Holstrom said she “loves the idea of an annual pass,” and suggested possibly partnering with a carbon offset organization for funding.

BUDGET

Officials discussed the 2021 budget, as the initial draft will be part of October’s meeting.

“Speculating a lot on 2021 fiscal outlook is complicated, to say the least,” Averill said, especially with the unexpected impacts of the pandemic. “ … In general, I think that the consensus I’m reading and seeing out there is that we think that we’ll be in a recovery period throughout 2021.”

One line item is $100,000 for service expansion, which has been discussed for over a year, including during the recent strategic operating plan process.

“It’s not a new line item, but we do intend to keep pushing for service expansion once we get covid behind us and the economic considerations,” Averill said.

Before the pandemic, SMART was planning to expand the Norwood route into Nucla and Naturita, and the Down Valley service into Ilium and Two Rivers. That can still happen sooner rather than later, Averill said, depending on the cost and the board’s wishes.

“We can move on some of this stuff this year,” he said. “ … The plans are in place we just need the go ahead and feeling good about the economic situation.”

Another new potential service area is the Ski Ranches via the current Rico route. Averill said the Ski Ranches HOA reached out about the possibility, and it could add up to 10 minutes to the current route time.

“We don’t want to upset the apple cart there, but that might be a really effective, efficient way to get service into the Ski Ranches,” he added.