FRISCO — Coloradans are hopping on board with public transportation, according to new numbers released from Bustang, Colorado’s statewide bus service.

The service launched in 2015 and officially celebrated its fourth anniversary earlier this month, when community members from around the state highlighted the Colorado Department of Transportation’s work on the project, noting the rapid increase in the number of residents choosing to bus their way across the state in lieu of driving.

“We’re grateful for the support we’re getting from the riders in Colorado,” said Mike Timlin, Bustang program manager with CDOT. “People see the value in the service, and we’re pleased to offer it. The way people have responded, I believe they want to see this continue to expand.”

Bustang provides public transportation across the state, offering three main lines and a few Outrider services that launched last year ranging from Grand Junction in the west to Lamar in the east and from Fort Collins in the north to Alamosa and Durango in the south. Passengers utilizing the service get to ride in relative style, with each of Bustang’s coaches offering restrooms, bike racks, USB and 110v outlets, and even free Wi-Fi.

Since the first year Bustang began operating, ridership has grown steadily from just over 102,000 riders to more than 238,000 in 2018-19. This year’s ridership numbers also represent a significant 23% jump from 2017-18 when just more than 194,000 riders utilized the service.  

For stakeholders around the state, the program’s evolution is a huge step in the right direction. Danny Katz, director of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group Foundation, said the project has dramatic effects on issues surrounding accessibility, safety, economics and more.

“When you think about our transportation system, it has so many different impacts on Colorado,” Katz said. “It impacts our health, there are safety issues, affordability issues and accessibility issues. Too long has our transportation system been dependent on a system that requires you to own and operate your own vehicle just to get around.

“Traditionally, the kinds of vehicles we drive are producing a lot of pollution. It’s expensive to own and operate your own vehicle, and something like 10% of Coloradans don’t even have a driver’s license that are of driving age. There’s people who can’t or choose not to drive, so we need those other options. … I applaud CDOT for recognizing that they have a good system that deserves to expand and grow, and that’s what they’ve been doing.”

On the west line — which runs from Denver to Grand Junction through Summit County, with a stop at the Frisco Transfer Center — ridership also saw a considerable 69% swell in less than a year, expanding from 38,625 riders (July 2017 to June 2018) to 65,332 (July 2018 to March 2019).

“This is a huge impact for all those local communities up there,” Katz said. “A few thousand cars can really cause a lot of congestion and pollution in your local communities. So an option like this is a really good thing, and I think that ridership growth shows there’s a real need along the I-70 corridor to get around on a bus. It’s a good example of where this is really going well.”

Timlin said that given the quick growth on the west line, CDOT has had some issues keeping up with demand over the past year. Though, the department is already working to address the issue. Since winter, CDOT has added five new busses to its fleet bringing the total from 19 to 24, in addition to seven Outrider busses. Timlin said Ace Express Coaches of Golden, which is contracted to operate Bustang, also recently hired more employees to help meet increasing demand.

The extra capacity likely will be put to the test right away. CDOT is planning on expanding services later this year, beginning with pilot routes from Denver to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park on weekends starting in fall. CDOT also is hoping to expand services to Pueblo and the Interstate 70 corridor in December. Perhaps most notable is ongoing planning for a project called Snowstang, which would provide service directly to ski areas from December to April. Timlin said recruiting already has begun to get ski areas on board but noted that Arapahoe Basin Ski Area and Loveland Ski Area already were committed.

While plans are somewhat ambitious, CDOT spokesman Bob Wilson said Bustang’s ongoing expansion largely will be tied to the availability of resources and funding.

“It’s exceeded all of our expectations,” said Timlin, reflecting on the past four years of the program. “We do annual planning on what we think we’re going to see in growth and ridership, and it continues to exceed that greatly. … If I had to grade it, I’d give it a resounding A.”

Source: Summit Daily