SMART Executive Director David Averill explained Thursday the availability of ebikes may halt an ebike share project. (Screenshot by Justin Criado/Telluride Daily Planet)

In discussing the 2022 budget Thursday, San Miguel Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) officials decided that an ebike share program that was previously planned may not be happening as soon as they’d like after all, if at all.

Equipped with a CDOT grant of just over $100,000, SMART planned to contribute an additional $25,000 to the project that would potentially create three stations across Lawson Hill, Mountain Village and Telluride. But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and SMART asked CDOT to hold the funds for another year.

“That money has a three-year clock ticking on it, and we are in the third year. At the beginning of the pandemic they agreed to let us soft peddle it for a year, and we’re coming up on that,” SMART Executive Director David Averill explained.

Another factor that may be more problematic than access to CDOT funds is the availability of ebikes, he added.

“The supply chain right now is upside,” Averill said, adding he worked in the bicycle retail industry for over 10 years. “ … Everybody I’ve polled this last week has said it’ll be 2023 until the bike industry supply chains get back to normal.

“ … I am worried, even if we could get bikes and I don’t think we can from what I’m understanding, that they’re going to want that money back if we don’t spend it. If we can’t get bikes, we can’t spend it.”

Marti Prohaska, Mountain Village council member and SMART secretary-treasurer, asked if regular bikes are experiencing the same delays. Averill said there are still delays, though not as lengthy as ebikes.

“What we’re seeing in the market is a lot of the entry-level bikes are available. There’s probably merit there to have less expensive bikes on the road because these things tend to get beat up. On the flipside, they might not hold up as well if they’re just strict entry-level bikes, so we might end up replacing them sooner,” he added. “The other piece of that is in the scheme of the industry, if we were to actually get a contract with a bike company, would they be in a position of getting us bikes before they’re previously established dealers.

“There are businesses all over the country that are backordered looking for theses bikes as well. We have to ask ourselves what’s the likelihood of us jumping to the front of the line for what bikes are available.”

While there are several factors that may help SMART get bikes sooner, such as location, it’s still another big question mark.

“Any bike company would love to say they’re working in Telluride on a bike share,” Averill said. “It’s just tough to say whether or not we’d get slotted in for an earlier delivery than other bike dealers.”

Lance Waring, San Miguel County commissioner and SMART board member, suggested relinquishing the previously approved CDOT funds and reapplying at some point may be necessary at this point.

“I’m quite content to let this go. We were discussing this previously we’ve encountered a number of snags, none of which we were able to solve easily,” he said. “I propose we let it die a quite death and send that money back, or at least put it in our minds that we will be sending that money back.”

His fellow SMART board members agreed. Averill explained he did have a call out to CDOT’s Region 5 and will update the board whenever he has more information on the matter.

Another 2022 budget line item that was briefly discussed is the $20,000 slotted for fare collection, which is slightly down from 2021.

“For this year we budgeted $22,000, but we’re not collecting any fares because we’ve run fare free for most of this year. I dialed it back to an estimate of $20,000 for next year because ridership is still lower than pre-pandemic levels,” Averill explained. “Even if we turned fares back on, there’s a chance we won’t hit or previous fare revenue numbers, unless we get all of our riders back.”

While the loss in 20-25 percent ridership is mainly due to the pandemic, SMART plans to increase marketing efforts, particularly for the Lawson Hill and Down Valley routes. Overall, Averill said, SMART is still in a good place. For example, ridership for the Front Range’s Regional Transportation District dropped 70 percent, and services have been dialed back or eliminated due to a driver shortage.

While SMART is “looking for drivers all the time,” as Averill put it, increasing ridership to pre-pandemic levels is a reasonable 2022 goal. 

“I’d love to see us get back to our previous pre-pandemic by mid-year next year, or at least by the end of next year,” he added. “I don’t know how that’s going to work out, but at least getting back to those levels, I think, is absolutely essential.”