START It Up: Four proposed schemes could raise up to $5 million for START service

By on January 17, 2018

The START bus system is nothing if not controversial, and now officials are looking for news ways to help fund the mass transit system. (PHOTO: START Website)

After Teton County voters chose not to enact several proposals in May 2017 to expand funding for the county’s START bus system, officials from the town of Jackson and Teton County have begun looking elsewhere to shore up founds for the mass transit system.

A committee of 12 appointed to study ways to increase funding for the START system in an equitable manner so the system can meet its long-term goal of increasing ridership by 25 percent by the year 2020.

If successful in that goal, START’s ridership would increase to 1.25 million rides per year. Such a goal would require about $6.4 million.

To raise that funding, the committee looked at various ways to raise funding. Four potential avenues for increasing the operating budget identified by the committee were rental fees assessed for short-term renters, fees for parking, a fee on rental cars and an employer transit pass system.

A short-term rental fee assessment could account for an estimated $1 million. The scheme, similar to one employed by Teton Village, would assess a fee to short term rentals in the town of Jackson and across Teton County.

According to the committee, the fee would be assessed to rental properties legally rented on a short-term basis of 31 days or fewer within the town of Jackson, as well as in Teton County. Under the proposed scheme, the tax could be scaled based on property value and size.

Another possible option floated by the committee would seek to target a group seen as contributing significantly to traffic issues in the town of Jackson and across the county; tourists who rent cars. According to the committee’s report, car rentals not only contribute to traffic issues, but also increase wear and tear on county and town roads and infrastructure.

The fee on car rentals could be assessed on a per-day, or per-rental basis, with such a fee being assessed directly to the consumer. Another possible option could be a franchise fee or business license fee assessed to car rental firms in the county.

A fee assessed on car rentals could raise up to $500,000 per year, by the committee’s estimates.

Two other options floated by the committee would not impact visitors and tourists alone. One option suggested in the committee’s report is a parking fee.

“When parking demand is not managed, demand will always grow to outstrip supply,” the report said. “The concept behind demand-managed parking is to charge for parking such that one or two parking spots per block generally remain open.

“When parking becomes readily available, congestion decreases.”

A reduction in congestion brought about by managing parking could mean up to $1 million added to START coffers, according to the report.

A proposed fourth scheme would most directly affect local residents and businesses in Jackson and Teton County. Under this scheme, employers would purchase seasonal transit passes for employees. Under the scheme, employers would purchase passes based on a percentage of total employees.

Under the committee’s proposal, the passes would be a tax-free benefit for employees. However, to make the passes attractive, the committee conceded that certain changes to START’s service level would have to be made, including longer hours for routes, and the addition of new bus routes.

According to the group, such a plan could raise $1-1.5 million for START per year.

Though the committee focused on those four schemes for increasing funding, there were other suggestions as possible sources to increase funding for START. Potential short-term schemes include a property tax across the town and county, as well as a possible lodging tax.

Other possible schemes for increasing revenues in the mid-term include a Special Purpose Excise Tax, or SPET, or a local sales tax. The committee also said special assessment districts could also be a potential solution, but one that would require legislative action. The committee’s report also mentioned a potential car registration fee and potential development of a regional transit model involving other nearby municipalities and counties as potential solutions for increasing START funding.

The committee also suggested maintaining and possibly increasing funding from several existing sources, including getting more grants from the state and federal governments, the lodging tax and possible fare increases for START users.

Regardless of which, if any, of the proposed schemes are accepted and implemented by the county and town, the committee was very stark in its analysis of the issue, saying that increasing START usage was necessary to mitigate traffic issues, as well as to protect the environment in and around Teton County.

“What will traffic look like in our community in 10-20 years if we don’t start to address traffic congestion?” the committee asked in its report. PJH

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