In a dispute about how much Teton Village pays into the START system, it appears Jackson Hole Mountain Resort might not provide bus passes to its season passholders next winter, ending a decade-long skier perk and traffic reduction incentive.
Ski resort President Mary Kate Buckley informed elected officials of the resort’s decision Monday, saying that after a year of negotiations with START the transit agency has not given them “anything we can work with.”
“They have provided us with a formula to which we cannot agree,” Buckley said. She asked the Teton County Board of County Commissioners “for any assistance in helping us to get that pricing so we can buy the passes on behalf of our season passholders.”
The START board recently voted to charge the resort about $32,000 for those passes. That number is based on the portion of ridership that skiers account for, which, according to data that START collected last year, is about 15%, or about 500 riders a day.
Under this “cost-of-service” funding model, that $32,000 figure is actually only a quarter of the total cost of almost $130,000. The START board agreed to subsidize half that cost with taxpayer dollars. Beyond that, it again cut the price in half for the first year, to soften the blow to the resort’s budget.
“We recognize the public benefit of getting people on the bus, obviously,” START board Chairwoman Susan Mick said.
As of now it seems that without intervention from START or elected officials, skiers will not receive bus passes. Resort spokeswoman Anna Cole said the company plans to announce its product line, and whether season passes will include bus passes, on March 23. Passes go on sale April 1.
The ski pass dilemma is just one manifestation of a broader impasse between local government and the businesses at Teton Village.
Ask anyone involved and they’ll say the partnership between START and Teton Village is essential to meeting community transportation goals. No one lets an interview on the subject begin or end without saying so.
“Our service would not be where it’s at without the mountain resort and the village,” START Director Darren Brugmann said at a joint meeting of the Town Council and Teton County Board of County Commissioners in June. “We very much value the relationship. We’re just trying to figure out a formula that everyone can agree to going forward.”
In a letter to elected officials in January, the ski resort and the Teton Village Association touted the results of that collaboration over the years.
“The businesses in Teton Village … have a proud history of partnering with START to significantly reduce traffic on town and county roads for nearly two decades,” they wrote. “We are challenged to think of other businesses in this valley that have taken such an active role to reduce traffic on our roads.”
The effort has kept an already busy Moose-Wilson Road from becoming gridlocked, protecting people, wildlife and the skier experience. But despite the obvious benefits to all parties, and to the public at large, the two sides have so far failed to settle the dispute.
It boils down to an underlying difference of opinion about the appropriate way to determine how much Teton Village should contribute.
Some town and county officials argue that because the resort district receives about half of all bus service in Teton County, and because it has a transportation management plan, it should be treated as a unique case.
“We fundamentally agree to disagree,” Town Manager Larry Pardee said. “They have a business to run and they philosophically disagree with the approach.”
The START board, and subsequently the town councilors and county commissioners, voted last year to overhaul the funding agreement for the resort and the Village association, which are both required to provide bus passes for their employees under the conditions of their master plan.
Under the new system they are required to pay for the portion of bus service that can be traced to their own employees, as with the ski passholders. According to data that START collected in the winter of 2018-19, employees make up about 65%. That comes out to just over $430,000 for this fiscal year, significantly more than the $310,000 that the resort and the association paid last year.
The ski resort and the association, for their part, have called on START and elected officials to rethink the new policy. Their proposal is to purchase bus passes for their employees at the bulk discount rates available to all employers.
Essentially, they want to be treated like any other business. They argue their proposal is more transparent because it can easily be applied to all employers equally.
“We believe that there is an imbalance in the expectations of JHMR,” the resort wrote in a recent statement, “and moving forward we hope that all businesses in the community do their part to contribute to increasing bus ridership and reducing traffic.”
Though the resort and the Village association accepted the cost-of-service arrangement this year, their attorneys submitted letters to elected officials in the fall reserving the right to challenge it in the future.
“We stand ready to work with the town, county and START to find a solution for next winter that won’t increase traffic and decrease transit ridership,” they wrote in January to elected officials. “Let us be a model to help START expand the employer bus pass program and increase employer support for START bus.”