START board: Continue ski pass benefits

March 7, 2018 GMT

Transit officials voted Monday to maintain the policy that includes START bus access with a Jackson Hole Mountain Resort ski pass for the 2018-19 season.

“I’m hopeful the will of this board is honored by the electeds in the budget process,” START advisory board Chairman Chad Repinski said.

The resort’s payment for the ski pass fits into the START budget, which requires a final stamp of approval from the town and county elected officials.

The START board plans to re-evaluate how much the resort pays for ski pass holders’ bus access in the coming years when more hard ridership figures are available.

“For this season, having an interim status quo is the only thing that makes sense,” START board member Michael Yin said. “Negotiating in the future with more data makes sense.”

The 1998 Teton Village Master Plan requires the resort and Teton Village to buy bus passes for employees per a formula based on employee counts. In the 2002-03 season, the Mountain Resort voluntarily negotiated an extra payment so START service was included with the purchase of a ski pass.

In the 2004-05 ski season, the resort and the START board negotiated a new payment system for the resort that deviated from the 1998 master plan formula and resulted in a flat fee for the employee bus pass requirement plus bus passes for season pass holders.

This year, at the direction of the town and county, town staff decided to re-examine the Village’s obligations to START. Upon discovering the deviation from the 1998 plan, staff determined it would make sense to bring the Village’s START payments for employee bus passes back in line with the letter of the 1998 plan for the sake of transparency.

Last winter, the resort paid $149,800 to START for the winter season, according to the town. Using the formula prescribed in 1998, that should have included $53,884 to cover the master plan’s requirements for employee bus passes, leaving $95,916 for ski pass holders.

At last year’s bulk discounted rate of $93.75, the resort covers a total of about 1,023 bus passes for skiers, Town Manager Bob McLaurin said.

“Conceptually, they’re buying the first 1,000 or so,” McLaurin said. “Beyond that number, the START fund will absorb those.”

Alternately, Repinski suggested, the resort’s payment could be seen as resulting in a highly subsidized rate for bus passes for pass holders. For example, if there were 5,500 season ski passes sold, the subsidized rate would come out to about $18 per START pass, he said.

In addition to chairing the START board, Repinski is an employee of the News&Guide.

Last week, a Feb. 27 email to electeds from McLaurin stirred confusion when it was widely interpreted to say that the resort’s deadlines for setting season pass rates meant 2018-19 ski pass holder START benefits would be discontinued.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort President Jerry Blann read the email to mean the town was asking the resort to stop including START benefits as part of the season pass. So the resort emailed its season pass holders urging them to contact town and county officials and call upon them to reverse the decision.

“We were not happy because we thought we were doing the right thing for the benefit of our community,” Blann said. “We’re trying to put more people on buses, and now we’re arguing about the cost.”

The Mountain Resort couldn’t wait for the START budgeting process to learn whether or how the ski benefits would continue due to deadlines for setting season pass prices. Blann said the resort has not been passing bus pass costs onto ski season pass holders; rather the resort has absorbed the cost in administration. But the resort could pass that cost along in the future if the price were to increase substantially.

McLaurin apologized for the misunderstanding, saying the intention was never to take bus passes from skiers.

“I never thought the pass would go away,” McLaurin said. “It was about who would pay for them.”

For instance, moving forward the town and county could require the resort to pay more for ski pass holder benefits, or the town and county could choose to set different bus pass prices for Grand Pass holders vs. seven-day.

“We appreciate the partnership of the Mountain Resort and Teton Village Association,” McLaurin added. “They’ve been good partners over the years and we look forward to continuing to work with them.”

The exact rates for the formula will be determined when the START board meets 11:30 a.m. March 8 to review its budget and fares, which haven’t been upped since 2005.

During next year’s budgeting session, when an electronic fare system is set to be implemented, the START board plans to use data to negotiate a number with the resort that more accurately reflects use of the season ski pass benefits. As of now, it’s unknown how many pass holders ride the bus regularly.

On Monday, town and county elected officials also directed staff to continue pursuing additional funding measures for START: resort districts, short-term residential rental fees, lodging tax, rental car fees, regional transportation organizations and a transit impact fee levied on building permits.