Bustang service to Vail, Western Slope now has about 5,000 riders per month
By the numbers
3: Years in service.
$17: Cost of a ticket from Vail to Denver on a Bustang bus.
$9: Cost of a train ticket from Union Station in Denver to Denver International Airport.
5,000: Approximate monthly passenger levels for Western Slope service.
Source: Colorado Department Transportation
EAGLE COUNTY — The Colorado Department of Transportation’s Bustang bus service has been a surprising success — unless you’re in the transit business.
“Most of us in the transit industry have been aware of this need for years,” said Chris Lubbers, head of Eagle County’s ECO Transit.
The Bustang provides daily bus service around the state, much of it headed into Denver from outlying areas.
After its launch in July 2015, the western run from Glenwood Springs to Denver — with stops in Eagle, Vail and Summit County — was quickly running close to capacity.
Bustang Operations Manager Mike Timlin said it didn’t take long to expand service on the western route. Service expanded from five days a week to seven in November 2015. Shortly after, a second bus was added, this one from Vail to Denver.
Timlin said it turned out that the more service Bustang provided, the more people were riding. In late 2017, Bustang added a third trip west, an express bus from Glenwood Springs.
All of those routes originated on the Western Slope in the morning and then returned from Denver in the afternoon.
It can be an inexpensive trip. Starting from Glenwood Springs, a Bustang trip to Union Station in Denver is $28. From there, a quick escalator ride will take a passenger to the rail line out to Denver International Airport. That’s another $9, with no need to pay for parking at the airport.
In late June, Bustang added a trip originating in Denver, headed for Grand Junction. That route starts at Union Station, with stops in Summit County, Vail, Eagle, Glenwood Springs, Rifle, Parachute and Grand Junction.
That bus leaves Denver at 7 a.m., which puts it in Vail at about 9 a.m. — a good time to hit the slopes. The return trip comes through Vail between 4 and 4:30 p.m. — a good time to head home after a day on the mountain.
“We’re not in winter recreation mode yet, and we’re running 65 (percent) to 70 percent (full) on that (route),” Timlin said.
At the moment, about 5,000 people per month are riding the western Bustang routes.
Timlin noted that demand is strong — another five buses have been ordered. But, he added, the biggest impediment to further service expansion is human.
“The problem we have is finding (properly licensed) drivers,” Timlin said.
While CDOT runs the service — paid for with a combination of state funds and fare-box collections — service is provided through a private firm that contracts with the agency.
“We’ve told the contractor, you keep hiring, and we’ll keep adding service,” Timlin said.
While Bustang mostly connects Denver with the rest of the state, Lubbers said local transit agencies also are working to connect their service with Bustang.
Lubbers noted that ECO Transit is working on an “account-based” fare system to link in with Bustang. Using a phone, a rider can buy tickets before riding.
“Once that’s up and running, we’ll be able to seamlessly coordinate with Bustang,” Lubbers said.
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A report released this month by the Center for Colorado River Studies says that in order to sustainably manage the river in the face of climate change, officials need alternative management paradigms and a different way of thinking compared with the status quo. Estimates about how much water the Upper Colorado River Basin states will use in the future are a problem that needs rethinking, according to the white paper.