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CHRISTOPHER TOMLINSON/The Daily Sentinel

Riders wait to board the Snowstang bus at the downtown transfer facility on Friday afternoon in Grand Junction. The west line operates three round trips from Denver per day. In January, the west line served 2,063 passengers.

Ridership on the Bustang west line and Durango to Grand Junction outrider has remained relatively strong during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. Plans are even in the works for growing the service in this area.

Kyle French, bus operations manager for CDOT, said he’s happy with how the two Bustang lines that serve Grand Junction have been performing as the tail end of the pandemic nears.

Bustang ceased operations from the middle of March to June 28, 2020, because of the pandemic, French said. Now, buses are running at 50% capacity because of social distancing requirements, and Bustang routes have been cut back.

The west line operates three round trips from Denver per day, he said: one to Grand Junction, one to Glenwood Springs and one to Vail.

Bustang’s outrider line from Durango to Grand Junction is running one round trip per day, the same as before the pandemic.

Although ridership is at a limited capacity and schedule, French said CDOT is seeing indicators of route popularity returning.

“We’re definitely picking back up now that we’re able to be back in service,” French said.

The west line is right around the ridership levels of 2015-2016, which is when the route was launched.

According to French, the west line served 2,063 passengers in January, which is down from 8,619 passengers in 2020. That was the route’s highest ridership to date, he said, continuing a trend of steady growth.

“We hope to resume that growth once we have our service back on the road,” French said.

The Durango outrider line didn’t see as dramatic a drop in ridership from January 2020 to January 2021, but French noted the Durango line was able to relaunch with its full schedule.

The Durango line served 569 riders in January 2019, 555 riders in January 2020 and 270 riders this January, according to French.

Even though the Durango line ridership is not quite where it used to be, French said it’s at about the same percentage of the route’s capacity considering what’s allowed during the pandemic.

Assuming a full bus, French said, Durango has picked back up to the same popularity as pre-COVID times.

CDOT won’t be able to see a full ridership resume until buses can be full, he said.

Ridership on the west line and Durango outrider is generally higher in the winter months, French said.

“We’re still transporting a whole lot of people, and I’m pretty happy about that,” he said.

Bustang recently switched its terminal in Grand Junction from the old Greyhound stop to the downtown transfer facility.

Bustang moved because Greyhound closed its previous building and moved its Grand Junction operations to the transfer facility, so Bustang did the same.

The new location provides a closer connection to local transit options like Grand Valley Transit.

“It’s a great connection for local transit,” French said. “It’s a nice little hub to pull in and out of.”

That hub will soon host an outrider line from Grand Junction to Telluride, French said, which is slated to start this summer.

French said he hopes that the new line will help serve the Grand Junction community in a greater way, and also potentially give people a longer layover in Grand Junction.

In addition to the outrider line from Grand Junction to Telluride, CDOT is also looking at opening lines from Sterling to Greeley and from Trinidad to Pueblo this year.

“I’m pretty excited about it,” French said of the new lines.

Overall, French said he’s happy with how the west line and Durango outrider have been performing.

“I think we’re really lucky to have the support of the communities we serve, and we’ll definitely try to continue doing so,” he said.

In another Bustang move, CDOT added an outrider route between Craig and Denver on Jan. 1.

The route connects Craig and Denver via U.S. Highway 40 and Interstate 70, and operates seven days a week, including holidays.

In addition to Craig, regularly scheduled stops include Hayden, Steamboat Springs, Kremmling, Hot Sulphur Springs, Granby, Tabernash, Fraser, Winter Park, Idaho Springs, the Denver Federal Center and Union Station.

Along with scheduled stops, the route includes a number of flag stops, places where the bus stops only when a passenger is waiting for a ride or requests to be dropped off.