Bus service from Durango may resume

Passengers wait Sunday for a delayed bus to arrive from Denver at the Greyhound Bus Station at Fifth Street and Ute Avenue. Greyhound discontinued several north-south routes, including one from Durango.

Folks who don’t have a car, or a friend with a car, have been out of luck when it comes to public transportation since last September if they needed to travel between Durango and Grand Junction.

That’s when Greyhound discontinued its route between Salt Lake City and Albuquerque, N.M. — further isolating all the people who live in towns such as Cortez, Telluride, Ridgway, Montrose and Delta along the former bus route.

But if a proposed project wins grant funding in the next few weeks from the Colorado Department of Transportation, a daily round-trip bus service between Grand Junction and Durango — and points in between — could be up and running by May of next year.

And it’s coming from an atypical source. The group applying for the grant to operate the service is a nonprofit group associated with the Southern Ute Indian tribe, which has run a smaller-scale transit service in La Plata County since 1999.

“Because of the type of organization that we are, we have the capacity to respond when people need services,” said Peter Tregillus, programs developer with Southern Ute Community Action Programs Inc.

“We’re sensitive to these issues that are related to the workforce,” he said. “People need to get to their places of employment. Local economies do need workforces.”

They also need to get to the transit opportunities in Grand Junction, such as the airport, Amtrak and the Greyhound line along Interstate 70. That’s why CDOT is considering funding the service out of a grant program of the Federal Transit Administration, which aims to connect communities to the national transportation network.

The proposed round-trip service would run every day from Durango; first to Cortez, then to Telluride, then on to Ridgway, Montrose, Delta and Grand Junction.

The trip will take about five hours one-way and cost $30 to $40 to take the entire route, Tregillus said.

According to CDOT, grants approved in the Intercity Bus Program will be determined in the next few weeks.

The buses, at least for the first year of service, would likely be 55-seat vehicles set to be retired from Denver’s RTD service. CDOT also has applied for funds to acquire two new coaches that would be used for this potential route, but those would not be available until the middle of 2014 at the earliest, according to officials.

After Greyhound pulled out last year, CDOT solicited stakeholder feedback about the route.

“We got a lot of input that this route is very important — without it, we’re lacking that lifeline to get to Grand Junction, to get to the airport there, to make connections with Greyhound or Amtrak,” said John Valerio, a transit planner at CDOT and manager of the Intercity Bus Program.

He said CDOT likes the idea of a nonprofit group such as the Southern Ute Community Action Programs Inc. operating the service because the organization should be able to do it at a lower cost than other big transit companies.

CDOT currently funds similar routes between Alamosa and Gunnison, Pueblo and Wichita, Kan., Denver and Salt Lake City via Steamboat Springs, and Salida and Pueblo.

Valerio said the subsidized route between Gunnison and Denver has seen a 30 percent increase in riders every year over the first four years of operation.

“We know it takes a while for people to learn about the service and get in to the routine of taking it,” he said.

Regarding the new proposed Grand Junction-Durango route, he said, “We’re hopeful that it’s going to be a well-used route. The success of it depends on people riding it.”

If the grant is approved, the service would operate on an annual contract and would be evaluated year-to-year.

Cost estimates in the grant application are based on an estimate of 9,500 passengers using the service each year, a number Valerio called “conservative.”


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