Western Colorado residents from Grand Junction to Gunnison to Durango can look forward to starting to take advantage of the state's relatively new Bustang bus service as it spreads its reach.
The Colorado Department of Transportation says it expects to begin serving those communities this summer after first expanding its service in January into southeast Colorado between Pueblo and Lamar.
CDOT will begin providing service between Grand Junction and Denver. Bustang's Durango route will go to Grand Junction, serving communities such as Montrose and Delta along the way. The Gunnison route will head east to Denver. CDOT spokesman Bob Wilson said CDOT has heard from the Gunnison community that a lot of students and faculty at Western State Colorado University are interested in being able to travel by bus to Denver.
CDOT's expansions build on its flourishing Bustang service that connects Colorado Springs and Fort Collins to Denver on the Front Range, and Interstate 70 communities from Glenwood Springs to Denver. Those routes have seen growing ridership. CDOT also expects to connect Pueblo to Colorado Springs and Alamosa later next year, and offer service between Steamboat Springs and Frisco possibly late next year or in 2019, as the agency expands its alternative to people having to drive and putting more cars on roads.
"That was the goal, is to provide another way to travel around the state. This is proving to be pretty popular," Wilson said.
The service launched in 2015, and all along CDOT had hopes of expanding it to places like Grand Junction. Wilson said the agency is tentatively looking to start the Grand Junction service July 1.
Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, said it's great news that Bustang is bringing service from Denver to town.
"I'm glad that CDOT and that the state are recognizing that they really should go all the way to Grand Junction and so I appreciate that," she said.
She said the connection from Durango to Grand Junction would be a benefit as well.
"We do get asked from a tourism standpoint about the possibility of bus service to areas south … on a fairly regular basis," she said.
She added, "Having residents of the state from the south that may not have private transportation being able to get up to Grand Junction potentially for services and shopping, that kind of thing is a benefit to us as well."
Wilson said the extended service along the Interstate 70 corridor will include stops in Rifle and Parachute, but it's possible more stops will be added over time. The service will reach downtown Grand Junction, although the exact stop hasn't been determined. The price for travel from Grand Junction to Denver also still has to be established.
It costs $28 to travel from Glenwood Springs to Denver on Bustang.
Bustang buses have 38 seats, are wheelchair-accessible, and have restrooms, bike racks, free WiFi where available, power outlets and USB ports.
Wilson said the new, more rural routes serving southeast Colorado, Gunnison and Durango will be called the Outrider service, although they still will be part of the Bustang program.
Bustang is funded by fares and by $3 million a year in CDOT FASTER funding, which is generated from sources including surcharges on vehicle registration fees.
Ken Fischer, a Grand Junction resident and a civil engineer, said that until recently he was commuting each week to a job in Lakewood, driving over on Sunday nights and back on Thursday nights. If Bustang had come to Grand Junction, he would have looked at it as a commuting option, he said.
He noted that everyone in the state has been paying taxes for a service that had been extending no farther west than Glenwood Springs. He welcomes the plans for the Grand Junction service even though he's now retired.
"I'm still likely to consider it for going over to Denver for either seeing family and friends or shopping or going to a sporting event or whatever else," he said.
He said it also could make sense to take Bustang to Denver and then light rail to Denver International Airport.
He said Bustang makes the highway safer by taking vehicles off the road.
"If CDOT has trouble maintaining roads and highways because of the volume of traffic, then this is another way to keep the volume down," he said.