Bustang bolts from the gate,
 raises GJ hope

The first-year success of the new state transit service called Bustang is spurring increased hopes of it one day galloping past Glenwood Springs to serve Grand Junction as well.

The Colorado Department of Transportation’s express bus service marked its first birthday Wednesday, with ridership exceeding the agency’s forecast by 15,000 passengers and topping 102,000 by the end of June. It currently operates daily round-trip routes to Denver and back from Fort Collins and Colorado Springs, and a western service originating in the mornings in Glenwood Springs, with stops in Eagle, Vail and Frisco, the Denver Federal Center, Union Station in downtown Denver and the Denver Bus Center. An evening bus reverses that route.

The service also enables bus riders to catch the new rail service from Union Station to Denver International Airport.

“It’s actually pretty seamless,” CDOT spokesman Bob Wilson said of the rail link.

Wilson said the idea of extending the western service to Grand Junction is on the agency’s radar. There’s just no timetable for it occurring, and any expansion would require approval from the state Transportation Commission, whether additional funding is required or not.

“But extending it from Glenwood to Grand Junction is part of the plan,” Wilson said. “… It’s become more likely as time has gone on because of the success of the west route.”

Nineteen people rode the western route the day it began, but it averaged 44 daily riders the rest of that first month of service. In November CDOT added weekend service on the route. The route averaged 75 riders a day during the ski season from January through March, and its ridership averaged 65 riders a day over the year as a whole.

“It jumped up significantly as time went on. We’re definitely seeing growth and maturation of the service. It’s working out well. We’ve been very happy with how the west line has grown,” Wilson said.

That’s likewise been the case system-wide.

“Historically, it takes about a year to build ridership within a new transportation system,” Mark Imhoff, CDOT’s director of transit and rail, said in a news release. “Even knowing this, we set the bar high, establishing aggressive milestones to hit within our first year of service. Exceeding these initial projections speaks not only to public demand but to the quality experience Bustang offers its passengers.”

The 50-passenger buses are wheelchair-accessible and have restrooms, bike racks, power outlets, USB ports and free WiFi. The one-way fare between Glenwood and Denver is $28.

Bustang’s revenue was 36 percent higher than projections for the first year. Fares are paying for 36 percent of the cost of the service, 8 percent higher than projected.

The rest of the service is subsidized. It is being paid for by $3 million in funding from the FASTER program, which itself is funded from sources including surcharges on vehicle registration fees. CDOT contracts with Ace Express Coaches to run the service.

The program’s success also has CDOT looking at extending routes on the Front Range to include Greeley and Pueblo, and there’s also interest in service from Pueblo to Lamar.

Wilson said the service provides more options for people such as commuters between Fort Collins and Denver, and reduces highway congestion.

“The more cars we can get off the road, the better,” he said.

He said CDOT has gotten several inquiries from the Grand Valley asking for the bus service to be extended farther west.

“We know there’s a definite need for that,” with a lot of travel occurring between Grand Junction and Denver, he said.

Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber would be happy to see the service extended, providing locals with another transportation option to get to Denver.

“It would be something that would be very helpful to us,” she said.

Besides providing another option for business travelers between the two cities, it also would benefit tourism, not just in Denver but in the case of people perhaps wanting to take the bus to Grand Junction and rent a vehicle locally, Schwenke said.

The charter Denver Air Connection plane service between Grand Junction and Denver provides another alternative to driving and has been seeing a lot of success, but can result in needing to rent a car to get to downtown Denver and leave a fairly limited amount of hours to do same-day business, Schwenke said. And the round-trip cost of about $300 can be a factor, she said.

If Bustang comes to Grand Junction, one question for CDOT will involve scheduling, to avoid the need for people to have to leave the city too early in the morning or get home too late at night. The bus currently leaves Glenwood Springs at 7:05 a.m. and returns at 9:20 p.m.

“A lot of these logistical scheduling things would still need to be worked out,” Wilson said.

One approach would be to have multiple buses running the route each day to open up schedule options.

Having driven to Denver twice in recent weeks, Schwenke can see advantages to not being behind the wheel.

“There’s a difference between actually having to drive (Interstate 70) and being able to be on a bus. You can be somewhat effective in being able to do work,” she said.

Though riding a bus takes longer than driving, “there’s some trade-offs there in terms of productivity, in being able to do work on your way over and way back.”


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