A Steamboat Springs Transit bus makes a stop Tuesday morning in heavy traffic downtown. The city plans to add a new GPS tracking system to the buses that will allow passengers to view the location of the buses in real time.

Photo by Scott Franz

A Steamboat Springs Transit bus makes a stop Tuesday morning in heavy traffic downtown. The city plans to add a new GPS tracking system to the buses that will allow passengers to view the location of the buses in real time.

New GPS tracking system one of many new upgrades coming to Steamboat Springs Transit

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Will you use a new GPS tracking system to plan trips to a bus stop?

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— Residents and visitors here who have had to bundle up and wait at a bus stop in subzero temperatures might find an upcoming technology upgrade to Steamboat Springs’ free bus system particularly useful.

This fall, the city plans to install GPS trackers in all 20 buses in its transit fleet.

The trackers will show the real-time locations of the vehicles to dispatchers and riders via computers and smartphones.

“That’s the part of it I think will be really nice is people will be able to see where the buses are and know how they’re doing,” Steamboat Transit Director Jonathan Flint said Tuesday. “It’s especially nice to know in the wintertime how the bus is doing. Maybe someone won’t have to stand out there for a long period of time if they know the bus is delayed.”

The GPS tracking system is one of the many transit upgrades Flint is overseeing this summer.

The city’s hybrid bus fleet soon will grow from four to six after two more 35-foot Gillig buses arrive from Hayward, Calif., in time for the winter season.

Steamboat also is sending all of its regular 35-foot Gillig Phantoms, the mainstay of the fleet, to Lamar to have them refurbished so they can remain in service for at least seven more years.

Many were nearing the end of their lifespan, Flint said, and are being revitalized with funding from a federal transit program called State of Good Repair.

Although riders will notice the new hybrids and renovated buses, the tracking system likely is to have the greatest impact on riders.

Flint said the most common calls dispatchers here receive are from riders wondering where the next bus is.

The city has allocated about $82,000 for the tracking project, with about $65,000 of that funding coming from state grants generated from increased state vehicle registration fees.

GPS tracking systems are common on metro buses on the Front Range, and new smartphone apps have made it easier for people to watch the buses in real time and plan their jaunts to pickup spots accordingly.

Flint said the trackers have operational value, as well.

The new system will incorporate automated, infrared passenger counters on the bus.

The transit service will have much more data about how many people board the bus at each stop and can plan future routing and scheduling accordingly, Flint said.

Dispatchers also will be able to keep tabs on the real-time capacity of each bus and can call for an extra bus to serve a route more quickly.

This could come in handy for riders who find themselves unable to board the buses that typically are packed to the gills downtown on busy holidays such as New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day.

Hybrid fleet grows

The two new diesel/electric hybrid buses being built for the city’s transit fleet are a signal that Steamboat is going full speed ahead with the newer type of vehicle.

Flint said depending on the route, the transit service is seeing a 30 to 40 percent improvement in fuel economy from the hybrid buses.

The other savings from the buses come from their smaller engines and less costly maintenance bills.

“One of the big savings is whenever the hybrid slows down, it uses regenerative braking,” he said. “As a result, we really don’t have to rely on the brakes other than for the final stopping aspect. It’s less wear and tear.”

There are other benefits, too.

Flint said with a much quieter engine, the vehicles aren’t as noticeable when they run through residential areas.

Each new hybrid bus costs about $570,000.

Flint said 80 percent of the purchase price is covered by federal grants, and 20 percent is paid for by the city.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com

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