With Park City Transit at capacity, it’s up to Summit County to take lead on regional transit solutions, officials say
With combating traffic congestion a priority for Park City and Summit County and a public transit system that is stretched to capacity, area elected officials met Wednesday to get on the same page about how to govern and expand the system moving forward.
The conversation grew heated at times, with Summit County councilors saying the Park City-operated system has not been working for Snyderville Basin residents for years, Park City councilors saying they would not yield land-use authority to a regional transit system and questions about severing the existing relationship between the city and the county as it relates to transit.
But Park City Mayor Andy Beerman and Summit County Council Chair Doug Clyde both stressed their interest in maintaining the system, which primarily serves Park City and western Summit County. Beerman at one point said, “We are not taking our buses and going home,” while Clyde said the formation of a regional authority to govern public transportation was a future prospect rather than an immediate one.
Still, Clyde raised eyebrows when he said the county would no doubt get the city’s attention if it reallocates the money it contributes to the transit system.
The officials seemed to reach a consensus to update the transit operating agreement between the two entities as soon as possible to increase transparency. They also appeared to agree that the county should take the lead on examining alternative governing structures that might lead to a regional transit authority in which Park City would play a lesser role.
The county is budgeted to contribute $8.5 million to Park City Transit in 2020, a system that has a $14.9 million operating budget. The system’s capital costs, like repairing and purchasing buses and maintaining facilities, add millions of dollars on top of that, but officials say determining the total cost of the system is difficult, as city-specific projects are also included in fund expenditures.
Park City budget officials estimated the county pays about 40% of total costs.
Park City Manager Matt Dias told the group that he believes the system can no longer increase services after roughly five years of rapid growth.
“Given the amount of growth and expansion of the system and the time period, we’re not recommending to our officials from an administrative standpoint that we’re in any position to expand services any further,” Dias said. “We would like to let things soak in for a while.”
But the county has been itching to expand and improve services and has identified mitigating traffic congestion as its No. 1 strategic goal. City officials said they would like to turn inward and focus on improving transit options within Park City and leave any expansion beyond city borders to the county.
County officials agreed to lead that effort but indicated that any regional system would not be built on top of the funding they’re already committing to transit. In 2020, the county is budgeting around $13 million for transportation, and leading a new regional transportation system would likely impact the $8.5 million it has earmarked for Park City Transit.
Park City Transit operates under an interlocal agreement between the city and county signed in 2006 and amended over the years. It was crafted at a time when the city had vastly more resources to devote to the issue. In the intervening years, though, the county has been catching up.
The opacity of the funding arrangement has been a persistent frustration for the county, and another update to the interlocal agreement is expected to be evaluated by a joint transit advisory board March 16.
County Manager Tom Fisher said that should provide more transparency about what the county is paying and what it’s getting for its money.
As it stands, the agreement is structured with Park City as a service provider and Summit County as a client, not unlike Republic Service providing solid waste removal to county residents.
Councilor Chris Robinson warned that could prove to be a consistent friction point as he and others advocate that the county enjoy more of a partnership role with input into decisions like how routes are changed.
“There’s one alpha that’s in charge and that’s easier — for the alpha that’s in charge, perhaps,” Robinson said.
Park City officials were supportive of county efforts to expand services, with Councilor Steve Joyce saying it is obvious transit solutions need to be regional.
But city officials said it should be the county, and not the city, that plays a leadership role in developing an alternate form of governance like a regional transit authority. It’s envisioned that such an entity could encompass regional players like Wasatch County, East Side municipalities, Heber City and the Military Installation Development Authority operating near the Jordanelle Reservoir.
County officials agreed with that assessment and said preliminary talks are already underway.
Robinson, however, wanted the city involved in developing a new regional model, as it’s the major player in the current system.
City officials, including Councilor Tim Henney and Mayor Beerman, indicated resistance to a regional authority having control over where transit infrastructure would go within city limits.
The most contentious encounter of the meeting occurred between Henney and County Councilor Glenn Wright, in which Henney vehemently opposed any regional body that threatened to usurp Park City’s land-use authority.
The disagreement stems back to a November joint meeting in which Wright questioned the wisdom of ending a proposed bus rapid transit system at the planned arts and culture district in Park City’s Bonanza Park neighborhood rather than closer to popular destinations like Main Street or the ski resorts.
Fisher indicated county staff would examine alternative governing structures for public transit and County Councilor Kim Carson advocated establishing a working group to further study the issue.
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