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High Valley Transit changes schedule, hoping to run on time

Courtesy of the High Valley Transit District
High Valley Transit District microtransit minivans.

Starting Friday, the main bus line for Summit County’s High Valley Transit District will run every half hour rather than every 15 minutes as the district struggles with what it calls dependability issues.

The leaders of the High Valley Transit District have talked about the importance of this first winter for establishing trust among riders while the service gets its wheels turning.

High Valley runs a free on-demand microtransit service that shuttles people around the Snyderville Basin in minivans and a traditional fixed-route bus service that runs from Jeremy Ranch to Deer Valley Resort. The district, which Summit County formed in 2021 and is largely funded through sales taxes, launched those and other services last summer.

The peak holiday period saw ridership spike, but also an exodus of drivers, causing service delays and requests for rides that weren’t met.

Last week, the High Valley Board of Trustees met with high-ranking staffers from Via, the international transit consultant the district hired to establish and run the system.

The trustees heard a report that said both the microtransit and fixed-route services suffered from a lack of available drivers, and in some cases a lack of vehicles.

In early January, more than 1/4 of requests for a microtransit ride during peak times early in the morning and late at night were met with a “seat unavailable” response.

Trustee David Geffen said he thought those relying on High Valley Transit for their morning commute likely wouldn’t return to the system if they couldn’t get a ride when they needed one.

“These kind of numbers scare me,” Geffen said. “I mean, the 6:00 a.m. folks are probably people trying to get to jobs, I’m imagining, because people aren't just going around town doing fun things at that hour. And if we get people quasi-dependent on us for getting them — whether it's up to Canyons, or Park City Resort, or Deer Valley, or wherever they work — and 1/4 of the people we’re saying, ‘Sorry,’ I just worry an awful lot about that.”

Alex Lavoie, global head of operations at Via, said the microtransit system was generally performing well. He acknowledged demand is exceeding supply, but said the system had grown more than Via had expected and referred to it as a “bright spot.”

While the microtransit team has had some issues finding drivers, staffing challenges have hit the fixed-route services particularly hard.

According to a High Valley staff report, only 80% of the scheduled hours for the 101 Spiro route were serviced in the first two weeks of January. The 101 Spiro is supposed to run every 15 minutes from Jeremy Ranch to Deer Valley.

Because of a lack of drivers and an inability to hit the 15-minute targets, the district announced the bus would be scheduled to run every half hour instead, starting Friday.

Lavoie said Via was leaning on the subcontractor it hired to run the fixed routes, RTW Management. He said Via was offering incentives to help hire drivers and had invoked contractual penalties with RTW for poor performance.

RTW's President George Goates confirmed that RTW faced financial penalties for its inability to staff some shifts. He said it was increasingly hard to find qualified drivers.

At the board meeting last week, High Valley Executive Director Caroline Rodriguez said one thing that could help riders’ perceptions of the district is if they know where the buses are. The staff report includes negative comments from riders who were told a bus was a certain number of minutes away only for it to arrive much later.

Rodriguez and others have said Via is working to integrate real-time tracking locations into the High Valley app. At the board meeting last week, Via representatives said real-time bus tracking would be part of a larger app upgrade, which could be unveiled as late as June.

“I don't believe that was the intent of our contractual agreement,” Rodriguez said. “And I don't think we ever had the discussion about building something larger and what that means for us in January. So I think we'd want to continue that discussion and see what solution we can come up with that meets High Valley Transit’s immediate needs as we struggle with, especially, with reliability and on-time performance.”

The Via representatives said they would be open to that discussion.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the High Valley Transit District is not a subsidiary of Summit County.