Parks commission seeks proposals for shuttle services

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

By Samantha Jones

The Eureka Springs Parks and Recreation Commission continues to work on a plan to streamline shuttle services for the downhill mountain bike trails at Lake Leatherwood City Park.

At a workshop on Tuesday, July 28, the commission focused solely on shuttle services. Parks director Justin Huss said he hadn't received any information from city attorney Tim Weaver since the commission's July 21 meeting, when the commission heard from Dustin Slaughter of Slaughter Guides about a potential partnership on shuttle services.

Huss listed the commission's concerns, including what kind of bid procedures are required and whether or not the commission can give exclusive rights to run the shuttles to anyone. Huss reminded the commission why it's important to consider changing the shuttle arrangement, saying he expected the commission to run shuttle services before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Since then, Huss said, he has re-evaluated the efficiency of the current system. Huss said it will cost the commission money, time and resources to continue to manage the shuttle services in-house, while a private company could lease the existing shuttles. That would save the commission money on a reservation system, staffing and the shuttle vehicles, Huss said.

"Moving some costs and expenses elsewhere and taking that off our bottom line that's something we'd like to expand on," Huss said. "Again, the biggest piece of those are what are our legal obligations for that process? I don't have an answer for that yet, unfortunately, which is frustrating."

Huss added, "We're looking to cut costs. We're looking to be more efficient, to avoid any future shutdowns the concept being we don't ever have to shut down again and we are durable. That's what we're here to explore."

Commissioner Dave Hartmann asked if the commission is responsible for offering shuttle services at Lake Leatherwood and Huss said that was part of the agreement when the downhill trails were built.

"That's the entire concept of the downhill trails is the shuttle ability of it," Huss said.

"The details are important," Hartmann said. "Do we need to provide daily shuttle service if conditions warrant it?"

"It doesn't say daily, no," Huss said. "That's been an evolution of when it's worth running. We have to staff it."

Hartmann said he's sure Slaughter would "provide great service" but doesn't know why the commission would rush into having someone take over the lease on the shuttles.

"I don't know that we even need to. I don't know why we don't sell the shuttles on the open market," Hartmann said.

"That's part of the deal," Huss said. "That's part of the concept that you don't have to ride to the top of the hills."

Hartmann said he was asking if the commission is obligated to run shuttles, saying people can shuttle themselves to the top or take advantage of other shuttle services operating at Lake Leatherwood.

"I understand we want to run shuttles," Hartmann said. "Do we need to specifically contract with someone to provide specific services?"

"I believe we do," Huss said. "I believe we're not efficient right now. I believe there's conflict. I believe there's struggles out there, and that's the motivation for this."

Chairwoman Ruth Hager said she has heard of conflicts with the current services.

"How do you solve that problem? One of the ways is to have an exclusive [provider]," Hager said.

Huss said there have been issues with continuity, communications and online ticket sales. That's something an exclusive agreement with a private company would solve, Huss said. Hager said it's a given that the commission will offer shuttle services and said she wants to deal with the issue as soon as possible.

"I don't want it to take us six months to decide this. There's so much to discuss and so much to consider," Hager said. "It could take too long to make it good for the customers and good for the park."

"Acknowledging this now is realizing things are different and we have to make some hard changes and this is one of them," Huss said.

Hartmann asked if Huss expects to request proposals for shuttle services and Huss said it's always better to err on the side of caution. The important thing, Huss said, is that the commission comes to an agreement that benefits everyone.

"We absolutely want management control on it," Huss said.

With the commission's support, Huss agreed to start working on a request for proposals. By the time he's done working on that, Huss said, the commission will know what its legal obligations are.

"We'll bring that to the commission for review before we put it out," Huss said. "I think that's the path forward at this moment."

The commission's next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 18, at The Auditorium.

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