Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs Transit fell just 1,100 riders short of a record December last month.
"We were way up," City of Steamboat Springs Transit Director George Krawzoff said.
The free-to-rider city buses carried 135,350 passengers last month, compared to 104,158 in December 2001 and 136,430 in the record December of 1998.
Traditionally, the last day of the year is the busiest day of the year for Steamboat's bus drivers, and this year was no exception. On New Year's Eve, the city buses ran until 2:30 a.m. and carried 9,197 passengers. Krawzoff figures the old record for Dec. 31 would have fallen had it not been for the heavy snow that sent New Year's Eve celebrants hustling home to bed so they could ski in the morning.
"We were on pace to exceed 1999 when we had a record 9,441 passengers," Krawzoff said. "But with that snowstorm, I think we carried far fewer revelers."
The obvious reason for an upswing in bus ridership is a return to 20-minute service intervals for the first time since 1998. During the intervening four years, the city cut bus service to 30-minute intervals. But Krawzoff says there's more to it than that.
"Our service is improved, but the ridership is beyond that," Krawzoff said. "A certain percentage (of the increase) is local ridership."
Krawzoff pointed to November 2002 as evidence. Ridership was up 40 percent, from 26,000 passengers in November 2001 to 36,000.
The trend within the trend has seen winter ridership declining slightly while gains in the summer and shoulder seasons have partially offset the softer winter numbers, Krawzoff said. Summer ridership has doubled over the past five years.
Winter ridership here took a big jump in 1997 when bus routes were redrawn to better serve resort condominium properties. Numbers peaked in the winter of 1997-98 at 745,000 passengers and gradually slipped down to 672,801 in the winter of 2000-01 and 647,790 last winter.
It remains to be seen whether the return to 20-minute frequency will permanently reverse that trend.