Ski Shuttle Stalls

Regional transit district awaits financial committments from local officials

Efforts to establish a bus route to Santa Fe Ski basin look like they're not heading uphill anytime soon.

The North Central Regional Transit District has been working on the idea at the request of some Santa Fe area elected leaders, but the project needs money from the Santa Fe city and county, and neither one has made a firm commitment yet.

The transit district board is scheduled to meet tomorrow, Feb. 6, to discuss locking down finances and the next steps.

The County Commission talked about the proposal last month, when Deputy County Manager Tony Flores introduced transit district Executive Director Anthony Mortillaro to give a rundown of funding for the project. Mortillaro explained that funding for the proposed route would require money from the county along with smaller contributions from the transit district and Ski Santa Fe.

City Councilor Patti Bushee started the most recent push for a shuttle to the Santa Fe Ski area in 2013, and since then, the transit district has been talking about what it might look like to send its "Blue Buses" on that route. Currently, buses service reaches northward to Rio Arriba, Taos and Los Alamos counties, as well as and pueblos such as Nambé, Okhay Owigeh and San Ildefonso, with officials from each area having a vote on the transit district's board.

Commissioners were hesitant to push forward, preferring instead to wait and invest in other commuter routes while the transit district obtains solid financial commitments.

"This would not be my first priority for giving money to the [regional transit district] for a route," said Commissioner Liz Stefanics, adding that, "If we were going to put money into something…it needs to be into some commuter routes down Highway 14 and then going on to Pecos and Glorieta."

Commissioners and local pueblo officials also said at the Jan. 13 meeting that they're worried about how such buses would affect natural resources and sacred tribal lands.

"It's a playground for some, but it's more sacred for us," said former Tesuque Gov. Charlie Dorame, who also sits on the transit district's board of directors.

He said protecting the watershed environment of the mountain and preventing habitat destruction are also both important to the pueblo, which he said was "reluctant to push forward" with plans.

Commissioner Miguel Chavez also said he wants to respect the pueblos. He brought up the elephant in the room: safety on the oft-snowy route.

Without naming the details of the infamous Shuttlejack crash in 1999 that killed a child and a chaperone, Chavez used the cause of the crash, negligence in bus maintenance, as an example for why proper bus maintenance would be so crucial for the route to be a success.

"It's gotta be done right; you have to have the right equipment," said Chavez.

Commissioner Kathy Holian noted that a commuter service would decrease individual care use, reducing traffic up the mountain and saving money and resources.

"If we did have a commuter service that took people up to the ski area as it exists now, that could actually be helpful as far as having less cars going up there...but I agree with Commissioner Chavez that it needs more study," said Holian.

Commissioners told Flores to come back when solid financial commitments from other funders were in place.

Despite the stall, Jim Nagle, spokesman for the transit district, remains optimistic that the project will continue to move forward.

"We value and support their debate as well as that of the Pueblo of Tesuque that was presented that day by former Governor Dorame," said Nagle, adding that a decision is "dependent upon the board's assessment of all stakeholder input and possible funding opportunities or revenue sources."

A quick poll of local skiers showed interest, with one frequenter saying that her kids "would absolutely use it."

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