City bus driver Darrin Bevel takes a seat behind the wheel of the City of Steamboat Springs' new hybrid bus. The bus cost $500,000, but officials expect fuel savings to make up for the increased cost of the bus within five years.

Photo by John F. Russell

City bus driver Darrin Bevel takes a seat behind the wheel of the City of Steamboat Springs' new hybrid bus. The bus cost $500,000, but officials expect fuel savings to make up for the increased cost of the bus within five years.

Hybrid bus joins transit fleet

Nighttime ridership figures show steep decline

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The City of Steamboat Springs is hoping to roll out its new hybrid bus by January. The bus cost $500,000, but the city expects fuel savings to make up for the increased cost of the bus within five years.

Downtown shuttle stops established

A transportation solutions group formed by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association - in collaboration with local shuttle operators, local businesses and the city of Steamboat Springs - has established 10 lodging shuttle stops in downtown Steamboat.

Five stops each are located on the north and south side of Lincoln Avenue on cross streets. Signs reading "lodging shuttle stop" and the stop's location, such as Sixth Street North or 10th Street South, designate the locations. The new pick-up and drop-off points are intended to relieve congestion and other problems that arise when private shuttles stop in the general flow of Lincoln Avenue traffic.

— There haven't been many complaints so far regarding Steamboat Springs Transit's first hybrid bus - except when it comes to its looks.

"I think it's kind of cool-looking," Lynn Wilhelm, SST's fleet foreman, said about the bus, distinguished by a large hump on the top that houses regenerative batteries and an associated cooling system. "But there are some guys who say they don't like it."

Operations Manager Jonathan Flint said he hopes to have the hybrid in service by the first of the year, but that depends on how soon officials can have a graphic wrap installed in Denver.

Wilhelm said Regional Transportation District officials in Denver told him that in addition to conserving fuel, hybrid buses also require less engine maintenance and brake-pad replacement.

"They're saying they're having very little problems with them at all," Wilhelm said.

At $500,000, the hybrid bus is significantly more expensive than others, but city Public Works Director Philo Shelton said projections show fuel savings will offset the increased cost in five years. The bus has a lifespan of 12 years.

But those projections were done during the summer, when SST was paying about $4 a gallon for diesel fuel. Shelton said the latest diesel bill to cross his desk shows SST paying about $1.90 a gallon for diesel.

Other communities such as Breckenridge have not saved as much money on fuel with hybrid buses as they had hoped. Shelton is optimistic, though, and said Breckenridge's small downtown and short distances between stops don't take advantage of a hybrid vehicle's regenerative braking system.

"It needs to get above 25 mph and then you get your braking energy back," Shelton said. "We have more stretches where we're (going faster). : In their case, they weren't getting up enough speed."

Night ridership dips

After almost a month of running the winter schedule, Shelton estimated that SST ridership is up about 5 percent during the day compared to the same month last year. Nighttime ridership, however, is down about 30 percent.

"This issue is that when there were several bars in Ski Time Square people would ride the bus there and go bar hopping," Shelton wrote in an e-mail to local businesses. "Mainstreet (Steamboat Springs) and the remaining Ski Time Square businesses need to get on board quickly and offer a variety of evening activities. I think the restaurants need to offer some evening promotions and get the word out."

Shelton said his e-mail was not intended to imply that night service might be in jeopardy if ridership does not improve. He said the figures were just an indicator he wanted the community to be aware of.

"Right now, we're all in a mode where we all need to communicate to make our businesses better," Shelton said. "We need people to respond to that" number.

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