Summit County anticipates taking larger role in Park City transit decisions
Operation of Park City’s transit system has stayed relatively the same for nearly 20 years, with officials admitting that decisions about routes and bus purchases have largely been made away from the public eye. But, all of that is expected to change.
The transit system has significantly grown within the last two years as a result of demands for more service and the two sales tax increases that voters approved in 2016 to fund transportation-related projects. The changes have prompted Park City to restructure the transportation department.
Three positions within the transportation department have been reassigned to oversee different aspects of the transit system. Blake Fonnesbeck, Park City’s transit and public works director, said the positions were shifted to manage the growing staff and services more efficiently. The manager positions will be in charge of transit quality, business management and systems, which includes personnel.
“We have grown and with that growth, the old system of managing would not handle it,” he said. “We are doing this to create an empowered work force that can really help with being engaged and being able to move the whole system forward.”
The county has historically had a hands-off approach to how Park City’s transit system operates, even though funding has been provided for transit to run in the unincorporated areas of the county. The monitoring and design of the routes was largely left to Park City staffers.
“There is that dynamic where in the past we were so busy trying to just get the routes taken care of that some of these other pieces of communication and more transparency was not able to happen,” Fonnesbeck said. “With this new structure, we will have the ability to provide better transparency and better communication and will be stronger partners because of it. We will have more openness with the public so they can be more involved and help with route decisions.”
Summit County Council members have stated a desire to be more involved in transit decisions recently. The desire to have a more active role stems from the difficulties some of the County Council members have personally experienced while trying to use the bus system, as well as comments from the public.
County Manager Tom Fisher said the county did not historically have the expertise to take a more active role. But, he said the hiring of Caroline Rodriguez as the county’s regional transportation planning director in 2015, as well as the increase in revenue the county is contributing, supports the Council’s inclination to have more of a say in how that revenue is spent.
“The agreement that we have — the formal agreement — did not account for all of that and was still dealing with the historical method of what the county’s expertise was,” he said. “I don’t think the county desires to run its own transit system because that would be inefficient to have two administrations around that. The Council just wants more authority and participation.”
Fisher said county staffers have been actively working with Park City to reformat the way elected officials are involved, as well as the public. He added, “How we’ve talked about transit between the city and the county has not largely been public oriented up until this point.”
“Both staffs from the city and the county have been working on a method that almost has its own transit board between the two entities that will be advisory to the City Council on making final decision about how many buses to buy, how to make changes to routing, monitor changes itself and will look at planning,” he said.
A Joint Transit Advisory Board is listed within the formal agreement between the county and the city. But, the group has not necessarily served in that capacity, Fisher said.
“We want to reformat that at the staff level so it happens publicaly and staff is producing things for that advisory board,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot more open as it is conceived and more collaborative.”
When asked why it took nearly more than two years after the hiring of Rodriguez and the passing of the transportation sales taxes for the county to demand a more active role, Fisher attributed the delay to the reorganization within Park City’s transportation department. Fisher anticipates some of the collaborative meetings he described will begin taking place in the fall.
“We’ve known for a little over a year about that, and I think they are finally getting through the last of it,” he said. “We needed to see the staff changes happen and solidify that before we got into this next step. Part of that reformation is about this new method and putting the right people in the right spots to make that work.”
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