Our View: Riders returning to commuter bus
November 2, 2013
If you already were planning to commute between Craig and Steamboat Springs this winter for work or school and we said you could save $5,000 to $10,000 annually by riding the Steamboat Springs Transit regional bus, you'd seize the opportunity, wouldn't you?
Taxpayers, through four local governments, effectively are paying commuters to leave their cars at home and ride the regional bus. The higher the ridership, the more effective the subsidies are.
The Craig Daily Press published an encouraging report this week detailing how ridership on the bus is recovering after dipping significantly during the national economic downturn. Annual ridership that reached 38,000 in 2008 plunged to 26,000 in 2009 and dropped even further in 2010. This year, city of Steamboat Springs Transit Manager Jonathan Flint said the regional bus is on track to reach 27,000 by the end of 2013.
We welcomed that news because we think the availability of regional mass transit is beneficial on several levels. It reduces the numbers of cars on busy U.S. Highway 40 in a more sustainable way while improving safety.
The regional bus also supports local businesses by connecting the workforce with jobs while making it feasible for people to absorb an 84-mile daily commute for what may be modest compensation.
Finally, the regional bus is one of the best examples of collaboration among the cities of Steamboat and Craig, and the counties of Routt and Moffat. Hayden and west Steamboat also benefit from regional bus stops.
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However, the positive trend must continue to expand. At current ridership levels, each trip is heavily subsidized.
The best deal for passengers is to purchase an open-ended 10-ride pass for $40, and 78 percent of passengers currently take advantage. One commuter told the Daily Press that before buying a $40 bus pass, she was spending $68 to $80 weekly on gas before factoring in oil and tires and presumably higher insurance premiums based on miles driven.
Flint told us the annual cost of the regional bus is $240,300. There are two roundtrips daily on two over-the-road buses with a third bus standing by in case it is needed.
Routt County, Moffat County and the city of Craig combine to contribute $54,000 annually to the program. Fares cover another $80,000 of the cost, leaving the city of Steamboat to cover the remaining $106,300.
In 2012, that per-passenger subsidy was $6.90 per one-way trip or $13.80 per roundtrip. If ridership continues on its current track, the per passenger subsidy will drop to $5.90 each way in 2013. The system needs to continue to improve on that mark, both to reduce the per-passenger subsidy and reap more of the benefits mass transit provides.
Flint relies on AAA's 2011 estimate of the typical per-mile cost of driving a motor vehicle to conclude that commuting on the SST bus between Steamboat and Craig five days per week year-round would save commuters about $10,000 annually. Of course, that will vary with the fuel efficiency of different vehicles and regional gas prices.
We're pleased that local governments recognized the value of sticking with the regional commuter bus through the recession and beyond. And we're hopeful that more commuters will seize that opportunity.