Bustang notches another quarter of 25 percent growth, could soon add Frisco-to-Steamboat route | VailDaily.com

Bustang notches another quarter of 25 percent growth, could soon add Frisco-to-Steamboat route

Jack Queen
Summit Daily News

SUMMIT COUNTY — The Colorado Department of Transportation's statewide bus service, Bustang, has posted another quarter of strong ridership growth, with a nearly 25 percent jump between July and November compared with the same period last year.

Those gains come on top of a 52 percent increase in riders recorded earlier this year on the service's two-year anniversary and an increase of nearly 15,000 riders, or 77 percent, on Bustang's West Line, which runs through Eagle County from Denver to Glenwood Springs.

Since then, more than 12,000 riders have taken the West Line, and there have been nearly 67,000 riders system-wide. The other two Bustang lines connect Denver to Colorado Springs and Fort Collins.

'Exceeded expectation'

"It's amazing to see this explosive growth in the popularity of Bustang, especially along the West route," Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs said. "It has really exceeded expectations."

Bustang's continued growth contrasts sharply with the now-defunct Snowstang line, which provided service to Colorado ski resorts. During a pilot test last season, the line drew piddling rider numbers despite high initial interest online.

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But since Bustang continues to post strong growth each quarter, CDOT is looking to expand its service along the Front Range and through the mountains, including a possible Frisco-to-Steamboat Springs route. "We've been very happy with the continued growth of Bustang on all three lines," CDOT spokesman Bob Wilson said in an email. "We're going to be expanding all three at some point to the west in Grand Junction, to the north in Greeley and to the south in Pueblo … some time probably in 2018 or early 2019."

'Because of the growth'

Wilson said that a new route between Steamboat Springs and Frisco would likely become available next year or in 2019, along with stops in Castle Rock and the Denver Tech Center on the South Route. Starting in August, CDOT added multiple weekend routes on the North and South lines.

"They're exploring other routes because of the growth they've seen, particularly on this route," Gibbs said, referring to the West Line. "The bigger picture is they're looking at bus connectivity statewide and looking at gaps in that system. Steamboat is definitely one of (those gaps)."

As a state senator in 2009, Gibbs helped pass the Funding Advancements for Surface Transportation and Economic Recovery Act, or FASTER, which helps fund transit projects with vehicle registration fees.

"It's exciting to see that bill bringing benefits and helping provide strong transportation networks across the state," Gibbs said.

Bustang cost about $10 million to set up in July 2015 and costs about $3 million a year to run, according to CDOT. Last fiscal year, Bustang brought in $1.6 million in revenue, a 53 percent increase compared to the previous year.

Fares on the West Line from Glenwood to Denver go for $28, while a Frisco-to-Denver ticket costs $12. Each of the coaches has Wi-Fi and bathrooms.

On time 95 percent

According to a CDOT quarterly report, there were only two accidents involving a Bustang vehicle from April to June this year, translating to an accident rate of about one per 100,000 miles.

System-wide, the buses are on time 95 percent of the time but only 93 percent on time on the West Line, according to the quarterly report.

Given the high popularity of the West Line, CDOT is planning to negotiate with Greyhound Lines to replace the company's subsidized Denver-to-Grand Junction route with a Bustang route.

In June, Bustang entered into an agreement with Greyhound allowing passengers to use the same tickets on both services, helping streamline travel for people using Bustang to link up with other intercity bus routes.

"The ability to link our local service with the national transportation network provides Coloradans with flexibility, convenience and choice when it comes to traveling throughout the state and the country," Mark Imhoff, CDOT director of transit and rail, said in a prepared statement.

According to a CDOT white paper from last year, the agency may eventually fold other rural bus routes into Bustang as well, including Vail-to-Leadville buses operated by ECO Transit and a Leadville-to-Frisco route operated by Summit Stage.