Steamboat Springs The city’s free buses will offer late-night service this winter, with a final bus leaving downtown at about 2:20 a.m. in a loop to the mountain area, starting Dec. 16.
The Steamboat Springs City Council’s approval of the extended hours earlier this month stemmed from the city’s ongoing discussions about how to spur economic development and support the business community. The late-night bus service also addresses recent conflicts between downtown business owners — particularly of restaurants and bars that are open late — and downtown residents who objected to late-night noise from bands and crowds spilling outside after bars closed.
The City Council approved, in a 5-2 vote, the expenditure of $44,827 to extend free, late-night Steamboat Springs Transit service to 2:20 a.m. seven days a week from Dec. 16 to April 10. Winter bus service currently stops at about 1 a.m.
City Public Works Director Philo Shelton said when the new late-night schedule kicks in, buses will leave the Stock Bridge Transit Center for downtown and then the mountain area at 1, 1:20, 1:40, 2 and 2:20 a.m.
He said the capacity of a city bus is about 60, including 30 seats and room for 30 people standing.
City Finance Director Deb Hinsvark said funds for the late-night service could come from excess mineral lease and severance tax revenues collected this year. The city received about $208,000 in those funds, which are given to local governments affected by energy development.
The City Council gave initial support Nov. 16 to an allocation of $71,000 of those revenues for grant matches, meaning that with the allocation of nearly $45,000 for late-night bus service, about $92,000 of the funds remain unused.
Hinsvark said she would have to examine the city’s entire budget — which is strapped by declining sales tax revenues — before determining any future allocation of the $92,000.
“I need to do a macro look before we use that,” Hinsvark said.
Use of the entire $44,827 for the late-night bus service is not definite.
Council members Walter Magill and Bart Kounovsky voted against the expenditure Nov. 16, preferring an option that Shelton said would cost $19,700 and offer late-night service only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from Dec. 16 to April 9.
Shelton said transit staff would review ridership numbers for the late-night service this winter, likely in February, to determine whether the service should continue through April 10.
He noted that winter bus schedules already have been printed, meaning publicizing the late-night service could be a challenge. He said the late-night runs would be added to schedules either with an insert or some kind of “sticky note.” Shelton also noted that the new bus shelters along Lincoln Avenue have posted schedules, and members of the local hospitality industry will be aware of the new information to pass on to visitors.
Key stakeholders in the downtown business environment and local law enforcement worked with the California-based Responsible Hospitality Institute to address nighttime noise issues in a Denver forum in summer and in a Steamboat Springs visit in fall.
“The No. 1 recommendation that came down from the Responsible Hospitality Institute visit was solid late-night transportation,” Councilman Jon Quinn said. “This is a great step for the city to take.”
Magill speculated that the late-night bus service potentially could pay for itself through sales tax revenues from bar business shortly before closing time.
Amy Garris, owner of Ghost Ranch Saloon, made that point Nov. 9 in Olympian Hall at Howelsen Hill during City Council’s public forum about economic development.
“People really do a lot of their biggest spending at that late-night hour,” Garris said, speaking in favor of increased late-night transit service that could keep patrons in bars longer.
Garris said the Ghost Ranch spent an “absolute fortune in legal fees” contesting a July citation for alleged violation of a city noise ordinance. The citation followed a call from a Howelsen Place resident during a Friday night concert at the Ghost Ranch, which is across Seventh Street from the caller’s home.
City Council President Cari Hermacinski said she hopes to frequently see economic development ideas, such as late-night bus service, result in items on City Council agendas.
“We’re hoping to have actionable items every month,” she said.