Workers have long ride to Vail Valley | VailDaily.com
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Workers have long ride to Vail Valley

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO COlorado
Kristin Anderson/Vail DailyLeadville residents board the ECO Vail express bus Thursday morning in Leadville. This bus is full everyday with commuters.
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LEADVILLE, Colorado ” It’s 6:10 a.m., and sunlight is barely creeping into downtown Leadville as the last bus headed to Vail pulls up at the stop.

I scramble aboard, along with a handful of other bus riders, ready to get out of the -12 degree chill and blowing snow. As I fumble with my bus pass, it is clear that I am not a regular rider, unlike most of the others on the bus, who make a beeline for their chosen seats and either close their eyes or start chatting with other passengers.

By the time the bus has left Leadvile for the 38-mile trip down Highway 24, through Minturn and into Vail, every seat on the bus is full.

Eagle County’s bus system, ECO Transit, runs three buses each day out of Leadville, and all three are usually packed, said transit director David Johnson.

The first bus to Vail runs at 5:30 a.m., and the last bus back to Leadville leaves at 5 p.m.

“It’s always been a high-demand route, since this service started in the early 80s,” Johnson said.

The most crowded passenger Vicky Gonzales has seen its was when the bus headed for Avon broke down and two buses were combined. “People were sitting in the aisles and on the steps. We felt like we were Vienna sausages,” she said.

Passenger Jesse Sheppherd said the last bus to Vail can get that crowded a few times a week.

“Everyone can be scrunched together so much that you can hardly move,” he said.

Many passengers said they would like to see another bus added to the route, and ECO Transit officials said they are working on it.

Right now the number of buses is limited, but a new Leadville bus barn that will hold up to six buses may allow the county to run another bus into the valley, Johnson said.

Leadville resident Laura Griffin rides the bus to her job at Layton Construction in Vail two or three times a week, especially in bad weather.

“I just won’t drive it in the (bad) weather after I got in an accident. And you can tell when the weather is bad ” the bus is packed,” she said.

But it isn’t always the most comfortable ride, she said, laughing.

“Once I got carsick. They were blasting the heat to about a hundred degrees. That, combined with the curves and some medication I was on ” I threw up right on a girl’s shoes. It was so embarrassing,” she said.

Mike Sanchez started taking the bus three years ago to his job at the Vail Valley Medical Center when he thought gas prices were just too high to handle.

And the bus lets him relax and not worry about the drive, he adds. He usually takes a nap or listens to books on tape ” he has already been through six books this year.

The bus continues over Tennessee Pass as the sun begins rising over the glacier-capped mountain tops. Many passengers miss the show, either having seen it too many times to be impressed or because they are fast asleep.

“I’ve seen the most gorgeous sunrise and sunsets on this drive. With a little bit of cloud leaning on top of Massive ” it’s pretty good,” bus driver Anita Percifield said.

At the Red Cliff stop, daily passenger Joanna Snyder gets off, bundled up and walking stick in hand. She walks a mile-and-a-half into Red Cliff to her job as town clerk from the bus stop, since the bus service does not extend into town.

“I don’t mind. I like the walk, and usually in bad weather someone from work will give me a ride. It’d be nice to have a shuttle to bring people into Red Cliff,” she said.

As the bus goes over Battle Mountain, I’m impressed at how well the less-than-graceful, 41 passenger bus makes its way around the winding turns of the icy pass.

Bus driver Anita Percifield has driven the Leadville route for more than 13 years, and she knows exactly where the bumps are in the road.

Still, she has to contend with ice and snow, rocks, speeding cars, and animals darting into the street, she said.

However, she welcomes the challenge, and she loves her route, even though it is one of the more difficult drives.

“I like this because I like to drive. The worse the road is the more I like to drive. When the weather’s terrible, I’m just laughing,” she said.

Passengers said they are rarely concerned that the bus driver will get in an accident, even in a snow storm.

“The drivers are very good. They are regulars who know what they’re doing, and no one has to worry,” Synder said.

It is usually that other vehicles are unsafe, said Leadville resident Jesse Sheppherd. Many cars will dangerously try to pass the buses or follow too closely, he said

But no matter how reliable, passengers said they are still subject to the uncertainties of bus riding, including delays and the rare, but aggravating times when the buses don’t show up.

The biggest worry are accidents clogging the road, Sheppherd said.

“Once last winter it took us three hours to get to Vail because of an accident on the road. Another time an accident closed the road and we had to take Highway 91 instead,” he said.

If a driver doesn’t show up due to sickness or weather, it takes awhile to get another bus to the stop, and riders can be left waiting in the cold for more than an hour, some passengers said.

When a bus can’t make it, some riders start hitchhiking, and regular Leadville commuters know to start picking up the stranded travelers, Percifield said.

But overall, the bus service is great, Snyder said.

“I know it costs a lot of money to run. I’m just happy that we have it,” she said.

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.


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