City transit system logs busiest month in March

Fewer buses packed with plenty of riders

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— Steamboat Springs Transit carried more passengers in March than in any single month in its history. That despite the fact that the free city bus system was forced to cut the number of buses on the road this winter due to a shortage of drivers.

City Manager Paul Hughes told City Council Tuesday night that SST buses carried 203,530 passengers last month. That number eclipses the old record of 202,871 set in March 1998.

Deputy City Manager Wendy DuBord said Wednesday the 2.3 percent increase over last March was substantial.

"It's significant based on the fact we had to cut our service by about 30 percent," DuBord said.

City officials decided late last fall they would have to reduce the frequency of buses on the city's two major routes because they simply weren't able to hire enough drivers to cover all the routes. That meant that instead of service every 20 minutes on the blue/green and red/orange lines, buses often came every 30 minutes. The decision was made before the ski season started in order for the bus schedules to be printed in a timely fashion.

City transit operations specialist Jonathan Flint said Wednesday that daily ridership on the SST eclipsed 8,000 passengers on March 4, 11, and 14. March 4 and 11 were both Saturdays. March 14 fell on a Tuesday.

Flint attributed the record numbers of March in part to a number of large college ski groups that were in town.

Year-to-date, Flint said, city buses have carried 11,000 more passengers than last year at this time. For the ski season, SST was down between 4 and 5 percent despite the record March.

"That's actually pretty incredible," Flint said in light of the reduction in the frequency of service this winter. Flint added that the record March was a good sign that people are gravitating toward using mass transit here. But he admitted that improving customer service was a challenge with the driver shortage.

"It's wonderful we carried the numbers of passengers we did," Flint said. "It was really good to achieve the efficiency we did, and it's wonderful to see the people are willing to use the bus."

However, Flint said the buses were often very crowded during March, and at times, drivers had to stop and tell passengers waiting to board that they would have to wait a few minutes for the next bus.

"We're OK with people standing," Flint said. "Of course they have to stay behind the yellow line. But it's a question of how many people you can stuff behind the yellow line."

Flint said passengers who were told they would have to wait for the next bus, often didn't have to wait 30 minutes. Because the blue/green and red/orange lines overlap at some key points, like busy stops near condominiums on Walton Creek Road, buses came by four times an hour. There also are key bus stops on Lincoln Avenue that saw four buses destined for the ski mountain every hour.

Also, Flint said, there were times when SST administration was able to add buses to the routes during peak demand. The extra buses weren't reflected on the schedule, but it was a bonus for passengers when the extra bus showed up at their stop.


By the numbers
March is a busy month for the Steamboat Springs Transit system


Passenger totals in March
1997 172,330
1998 202,871
1999 192,456
2000 203,530

Annual passenger totals
Total passengers including regional and special service

1998 1.006 million
1999 967,000

Total local passengers riding fixed routes

1998 933,940
1999 905,113

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210 or e-mail tomross@amigo.net

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