Buses feeling effect of slowing tourism

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— Bus ridership has been down for much of this winter. That does not necessarily mean there were fewer tourists in town, but there is a definite link between ridership and tourism.

The two are connected, said Transportation Director George Krawzoff, but the relationship is more complicated than a simple one-rider to one-tourist ratio.

Ridership fell off 17 percent in January as compared to last January but was down only about 2 percent in February, Krawzoff said.

Indeed, tourist numbers do correlate with the number of people who ride the bus, but the kind of tourists in town also make a difference, Krawzoff said.

"It depends on the demographics of the tourists," Krawzoff said. "If you want to use the transit system as an indicator of tourism, you'll be generally on target, but if you try to get too specific, you will likely not get a good sense, because there are lots of other factors."

For instance, this winter many of the skiers who came to Steamboat drove from the Front Range and were less likely to get on a bus once they got to Steamboat. Therefore, while tourism may not have declined as much, and sales tax was down 7.2 percent, bus ridership fell off by double-digits in January. In January, 146,653 people rode the buses as compared to 168,472 in January 2001. In February of this year, extremely cold weather forced some locals out of their cars and onto buses after their cars wouldn't start, adding to rider numbers and pushing ridership to 157,089, Krawzoff said.

Fewer tour groups visited Steamboat this winter, meaning those tourists, who are more likely to ride buses, were not around to boost numbers.

In addition, the bus system was not at full staff for much of the winter because of immigration difficulties for 10 Australian bus drivers who were selected by the city in the fall but did not start driving until mid-January. Because buses were not as reliable or as frequent, people were less likely to be repeat users, Krawzoff said.

"That kind of had a chilling effect on ridership," Krawzoff said.

On top of that, local ridership does not seem to have increased very much, said Cliff Brody, a longtime bus driver. Because it is nearly impossible to tell who is a tourist and who is a local, the bus system does not keep records of who rides the city buses. But from anecdotal evidence, Brody said the number of local riders has not been increasing.

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