At first glance, $900,000 appears to be a great deal of money to pay for two or three new buses that will serve only 50 riders a day. However, if you have glimpsed the future of the Yampa Valley, it begins to look like a wise investment.
The city of Steamboat Springs is seeking proposals from bus manufacturers to supply two, or perhaps three, new over-the-road coaches that would make commuting to work in Steamboat from Craig and Hayden a more comfortable option. The old buses are due to be replaced and were never meant for daily round trips of 90 miles. Their seats are uncomfortable, and the lack of insulation in the buses means riders are chilled by the time they reach their destination. Modern buses built for longer routes could attract more riders.
The Federal Transportation Administration would bear 80 percent of the cost of the new buses -- the city would provide a 20 percent match.
More than 28,700 passengers boarded the regional bus between Steamboat and Craig in 2003. We think that number will grow in coming years as residential subdivisions in Hayden build out, and the cost of housing in Steamboat pushes through new barriers.
Mass transit is the best answer for reducing the number of cars and pickups streaming into Steamboat from U.S. Highway 40 at 7:30 each weekday morning. However, encouraging commuting workers to get on the bus will do more than ease traffic and air pollution on the highway between Steamboat and Craig. It's one good way to maintain some form of control over the number of vehicle trips that clog Lincoln Avenue each day.
While it has proven difficult to persuade Steamboat residents to ride Steamboat Springs Transit to work each morning, the financial incentives to ride the regional bus from outlying towns are significant.
A one-way ticket to ride the bus sells for as little as $2.50 and no more than $3.50. A commuter whose SUV gets 20 miles to the gallon on the highway could easily spend $8.32 a day on gasoline for the trip back and forth from Craig to Steamboat. Car pooling could drop that price. However, a more realistic calculation is to factor in the cost of vehicle depreciation, tires, oil changes, tune-ups and radiator flushes.
At a conservative 35 cents a mile, the round trip might cost closer to $31 a day.
Increasingly, we expect Northwest Colorado to become one big community, with people living throughout the region looking to the commercial and resort center in Steamboat as a place to work, recreate, dine and shop. For municipal and county governments to fail to plan for the transportation needs of the growing region would be to fail the broader community.
We know of one resort property manager in Steamboat who hands out a $5 bill to employees who drive a fellow employee to work from Craig on winter mornings. Even better, we'd like to see employers in Steamboat provide modest incentives to employees who choose to ride the regional bus to work at least four days a week.
We think the city is demonstrating vision by continuing to invest in a regional bus system.
We urge the city of Craig and Moffat County to consider providing the land that would allow SST to establish a permanent bus storage facility and a commuter parking lot on the east side of Craig.
The future is almost here.