STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Colorado Department of Transportation plans to extend its regional bus service to the Yampa Valley by January 2021.
CDOT communications manager Bob Wilson said the agency’s Bustang line, an inter-regional express bus service, could be headed to Steamboat Springs beginning in 2021 or earlier. The Steamboat route would be operated as a Bustang outrider route between Frisco and Steamboat Springs with the possibility of expanding service to Hayden, including the Yampa Valley Regional Airport, and Craig.
“We need to have coverage in Northwestern Colorado,” Wilson said. “That’s an important part of the expansion plans for Bustang and the Bustang outrider. Outrider serves the more rural areas.”
The Bustang currently runs routes along Interstate 70 and Interstate 25 corridors, with outrider routes including buses between Grand Junction and Durango and Gunnison to Denver. Wilson said Northwest Colorado is a gap within the program.
The bus would drive along Colorado Highway 9, stopping in Kremmling before summiting Rabbit Ears Pass and heading to Steamboat. Steamboat Springs Transit Manager Jonathan Flint said Steamboat’s regional bus, which stops in Steamboat II, Milner, Hayden and various locations in Craig, could play a role in connecting the Bustang to West Routt and Moffat County.
With a Steamboat route, Bustang riders could catch a bus in Steamboat and transfer on to the Bustang‘s West Line to Denver or Grand Junction in Frisco.
Other West Slope outrider routes of about the same distance include the Gunnison to Buena Vista and Grand Junction to Ridgeway outrider routes, which charge $16 and $15 for fares, respectively. The Denver to Frisco fare is $12, and the Frisco to Grand Junction fare is $30. Discounts are available for seniors, children, people with disabilities and people who purchase tickets for 10, 20 or 40 rides at a time.
If the Steamboat route is priced in the same manner, a single ride ticket would likely cost about $30 to travel to Denver and about $45 to travel to Grand Junction. Greyhound bus tickets from Steamboat Springs to Denver can start anywhere from $36 to $55 depending on the day, according to greyhound.com.
Outrider buses are slightly smaller than the Bustang buses that travel its regular routes, Wilson explained, but they offer the same amenities as their larger counterparts: wireless internet, USB and power outlets, bathrooms, luggage bays and bike racks. All Bustang buses are accessible to people with disabilities.
Another way to get where you’re going
“It’s opening up an option for people to get transportation to either Denver or Junction or Frisco, Silverthorne — that kind of thing,” Flint said. “It opens that up, as well as creates a different option.”
He added that he’s heard a need for transportation to medical providers in Denver and Grand Junction, including specialists or Veterans Affairs hospitals in both cities.
Flint added that the Bustang schedule might also offer a way to get to Grand Junction or Denver and return on the same day, which is not an option for those riding the Greyhound bus.
Steamboat Springs City Council Member Heather Sloop, who sits on multiple transportation boards, said it could provide another way for people to get to Steamboat Springs without flying or driving their own car. She added that the bus is a more sustainable option and could relieve traffic congestion.
“It’s helping us alleviate a pinch, not only in flights, but in traffic,” she said. “It’s also another outlet for locals to be able to get themselves to different places in the state. Get yourself out from behind the wheel and let somebody else drive and alleviate the congestion, the frustration and the time.”
Wilson said in the time between now and when the Bustang pulls up to Steamboat, CDOT will be working to find a contractor to operate the route and establish schedules and bus stops. Sloop said there is an expectation that local governments contribute funding to the service. Conversations about that are still evolving as the city, Routt County and other Northwest Colorado municipalities consider forming a regional transit authority.
In the future, Sloop said it’s “imperative” to have not only the Frisco route but a route from Steamboat to Craig, Rifle and Grand Junction.
“I don’t see this as a one-way ticket for tourism,” she said, adding that it could serve locals, too. “That’s why I think the Craig to (Grand) Junction route is so good. It’s servicing your older population, your veterans. It’s an alternative medical resource. Not everybody needs to go to Denver for their medical needs. We have a great hospital, but sometimes, you need to go to the VA.”
CDOT also recently announced that it will pilot a ‘SnowStang’ service providing direct buses from Denver to certain ski resorts on weekends and peak ski days. As of July 26, the SnowStang will serve Arapahoe Basin and Loveland Ski Area, though a CDOT official said he “hoped other resorts will join in.”
While Sloop said Steamboat Resort didn’t jump on the SnowStang, she’s hopeful that the city of Steamboat Springs would be interested in participating in the pilot program later this year. CDOT is paying for 60% of the cost of the service to ski resorts in the pilot SnowStang program.
“To me, this is a no brainer,” she said. “It’s a $63,000 buy-in for anybody who wants to do it up here.”
She said this is a relatively low cost for a municipality to spend on transit. Steamboat spent about $3.4 million supporting its free-to-rider transit buses in 2018.
“That’s the baby step I look at,” she said of the SnowStang. “If we can get the SnowStang up here and have the appeal, not only for tourism to come up, but wouldn’t it be great if you and I could take a quick trip to Denver, or if we needed to catch a plane, to not have to take an Alpine Taxi, or even our cars?”
To learn more about the Bustang, visit ridebustang.com.