Bus ridership sees sharp decline

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— After a fast start to the ski season, ridership on Steamboat Springs' free-to-rider bus system trailed off during what is normally the busiest time of the winter.

March ridership on Steamboat Springs Transit was down by more than 10,000 passengers, a 6 percent decline from the previous year.

"If you look at our (historic) ridership chart, the first two weeks of March are the two gangbuster weeks of the year," city Transit Director George Krawzoff said. "It just didn't happen."

For the record, SST carried 169,113 passengers in March 2003 compared with 179,897 during March 2002.

The 6-percent decline in passengers on SST is in sharp contrast to November and December 2002, when buses were far busier than the year before. November ridership was up 40 percent, or 10,000 passengers. December was up by 30,000, a jump of 30 percent over December 2001, when the post-Sept. 11 tourism scene was still sorting itself out. SST carried 989,777 passengers in 2002.

The surge in ridership slowed in January, but reflected a positive trend, posting 16 percent growth. That's the equivalent of 23,000 passengers. That was enough to put SST ahead 2.5 percent year to date. However, the bus system is giving up those gains in April, Krawzoff said.

"I thought the resort was doing real well," Krawzoff said. "It seems like people got nervous."

During a typical heavy week in March, SST often hits peaks of 8,000 per day, and 7,000 riders on an average day. The local bus system peaked at 7,000 daily this March and reached only 5,500 on average days.

Krawzoff chuckles when reminded of a promotional radio spot that takes a humorous jab at SST. The fictitious news item reports that SST officials, in their urgency to eclipse the 1 million passenger mark, will begin paying customers $1 to ride the bus for a limited time. Of course, the city doesn't hand out cash to bus passengers, but Krawzoff said the satirist who produced the promo spot might be surprised to learn just how much the city spends to subsidize every passenger on SST. In fact, the number is closer to $2.

"It cost us $1.84 per passenger last year," Krawzoff said. The transit director, guessing that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 would depress tourism numbers, had projected a per passenger subsidy of $2.40 passenger for 2002.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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