Ski pass holders lose ticket to ride START, Village miffed

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – A decision made yesterday to end START bus passes as a benefit for ski pass holders at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has created a flap between the resort and local government entities.

Representatives of the Teton Village Association, who have pushed hard to encourage bus riding in efforts to reduce traffic along Highway 390, called the move “illogical.” Town officials via a letter to electeds from town manager Bob McLaurin, stated the decision brings back into alignment an original vision of guiding documents like the Teton Village Master Plan (TVMP) and the Master Plan Travel Demand Management (TDM) and will allow for a clearer picture of just how many riders are using START to Teton Village, who those riders are, and what it truly costs to get them from Stilson to the Vill.

How we got here

Yesterday’s announcement means that beginning next ski season JHMR will not be able to include a bus pass with its ski passes. The new policy is viewed by JHMR and TVA as an abandonment of efforts to reduce traffic on Teton Village Road.

“For the past 15 years, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has voluntarily purchased START bus passes for season passholders at a negotiated discounted rate,” the resort stated in a press release from communications director Anna Cole. “In addition to the direct benefit to our season passholders, there was a broader benefit to the Jackson Hole and Teton Village communities. Supporting START bus is in line with our community’s collective goal of working to reduce winter traffic levels for the benefit of our wildlife, our environmental goals and for all those who enjoy our mountain.”

Melissa Turley, executive director of TVA, added, “This flap to take bus passes away from season ski pass holders raises serious and fundamental questions about START’s incent-more-vehicles-to-drive approach. We can’t understand why START Bus would want to end this initiative, thereby increasing traffic and reducing funding for START Bus. For START to imagine that taking bus passes away would have any other effect than to increase frustrating traffic to locals and reduce funding for START Bus is illogical.”

JHMR: “As a result [of this decision], Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has been informed that we cannot provide the START bus benefit for our passholders for the 2018-19 ski season.”
Last year, JHMR spent some $100,000 for discounted bulk rate START bus passes. Additionally, JHMR and TVA kicked in another $162,000 for employee bus passes.

Town and county officials believe it’s important to correct a drift away from the 1998 master plan for the Village where “significant expansion of the bed base and increased commercial areas” was allowed in exchange for JHMR and TVA providing bus passes for their employees. Sometime during the 2000s, when Michael Wackerly ran START, a deal was made that included bus service as part of the cost of a ski pass.

According to McLaurin, these passes not only included season passes like the Grand Pass, but other short-term tickets like the Weekend Warrior and 10-day pass. Holders of these received, at no cost, free bus service in the winter. That should have never been part of the plan, according to McLaurin.

McLaurin added that the reexamination of JHMR’s and TVA’s adherence to its 1998 master plan and the TDM was ordered by the town council and the board of county commissioners last fall “in order to determine whether these entities were paying in accordance with the requirement of the 1998 Teton Village Master Plan.”

With START on the precipice of installing a new electronic fare system which may be better able to accommodate data gathering and intelligently sort out different fare rates (between 10-day passholders and full season passholders, for instance), McLaurin said the conversation could be revisited in the future, but for now, “we felt it important that the town and county decide how much START service you wish to give away,” he stated in a letter to elected officials.

Representatives from JHMR see the pronouncement as nothing more than a departure from a funding model that they say has been successful at removing cars from the road.

“This is an unfortunate situation that our town and county elected officials and staff have put us in,” stated JHMR President Jerry Blann. “This seems to be about policy, as we were never offered the chance to negotiate the rate for next winter. We hope that with public support we can help sway the elected officials to rectify this situation to reinstate START bus service for our passholders.”