The four Bluebird buses that Steamboat Springs Transit uses to ferry commuters back and forth between Steamboat and Craig were never intended for 100-mile round trips in a wintry climate. Now, the city of Steamboat Springs is seeking bids for two or three replacement buses that could make mass transit more appealing.
City transit director George Krawzoff said the city intends to use federal grants to cover 80 percent of the expense of two, possibly three, new buses. Unlike the Bluebirds, they will be insulated against the winter cold and will feature rows of forward-facing seats that will be more comfortable than the hard plastic peripheral seating on the old buses.
The Bluebirds originally were purchased in 1995 and 1996 and are approaching the end of their typical lifespan, Krawzoff said. They were purchased to run city bus routes, but when stop-and-go traffic on slippery roads began to take a toll, they were shifted to the daily runs to and from Craig at highway speeds.
"The Bluebirds turned out not to be well-suited" to winter driving in the city, Krawzoff said. "The stop and go of winter driving was very hard on the vehicles."
Krawzoff's plan is to draw from three different Federal Transportation Administration grants totaling $2.6 million to assemble a budget of about $900,000 for the buses. Portions of those grants already are being used to expand the transit operations center in Steamboat and for improvements to the Gondola Transit Center near the entrance to the ski area. Krawzoff is determined to conserve a portion of the grant money to help establish a permanent bus storage facility and park-n-ride for commuters in Craig.
The commuter route, which includes stops in Hayden, is served by four buses, three of which overnight in Craig to allow them to begin transporting commuters at 6 a.m.
Ridership on the regional bus service peaked in 2003 at 28,729. About 50 people ride the regional route each day.
The buses make several stops in each city. The schedule includes three morning departures form the City Market in Craig at 6, 6:30 and 7:30 a.m. The first bus of the morning usually is packed, Krawzoff said.
Afternoon departures from GoFer Foods in Steamboat are at 4:30, 5 and 5:30 p.m.
The cost is $3.50 each way, or a 10-trip punch card may be purchased for $25.
Although the daily traffic could be transported on three-round trips, Krawzoff said the convenience of three departure times has proven to be an important factor in terms of keeping ridership up.
The new buses would not be available for the winter of 2004-05 -- the lead-time on ordering new buses can be 18 months, he said.
By November 2005 or sooner, Krawzoff hopes SST will be able to market comfortable new buses in an effort to boost ridership.
"Even when we get the buses heated up before leaving Craig, without insulation on a winter day, they're ice boxes by the time we get to Steamboat," he said.
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