Steamboat businesses want late-night bus service | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat businesses want late-night bus service

A city bus rolls down Lincoln Avenue after picking up a number of riders at a nearby stop. Some Steamboat Springs businesses are hoping to see the city extend bus hours in the summer.

— Snow Bowl owner Dewey Whitecotton said Steamboat Springs Transit's extended winter hours increased his business more than 50 percent on some nights. He said the scaled-back summer service has done the opposite.

Instead of his customers catching a bus from the bowling alley on Steamboat's west side until after 2 a.m., they're forced to head home sooner. The last summer bus leaves the bowling alley at 10:24 p.m.

Whitecotton has met with city officials about having the bus service extended year-round.

"It's good for business, and it's good for the community, I feel," he said. "It's good for my staff, too. I have a couple employees who don't drive."

Whitecotton said the city has been receptive but has told him that extended summer service hours wouldn't start until next year at the earliest.

Transit Operations Manager Jonathan Flint said because the city employs half as many drivers during the summer as the winter it would take too long and be too expensive to find and train new drivers this summer. He said it takes three to four weeks to get them through training.

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But Flint has prepared an estimate to extend bus service year-round, which would cost an additional $250,000 annually for the buses to run from 6 a.m. to past 2 a.m.

Based on what the city saw this winter, Flint said there was a demand for the extended service. He said late-night ridership increased 6 percent from the 2009-10 winter, and the cost per passenger decreased about 10 percent.

"It sometimes takes time for people to become familiar with this as a great option," Flint said. "The fact that the cost per passenger kept going down led me to believe that was true."

He said the winter season, which begins in mid-December, was again scheduled to have extended hours.

It hasn't been determined whether there is funding in the 2012 budget for an additional expense, Deputy City Manager Wendy DuBord said. She said the budget process has just started.

DuBord said City Manager Jon Roberts would review department budgets this month and next month before preparing a draft in September. She said the draft would be presented during Steamboat Springs City Council hearings in October.

After three consecutive years of budget cuts, DuBord said extending the bus service would be a substantial cost increase.

"This is one of many requests we'll have for 2012," she said. "We'll put them together with revenue projections and present them to City Council."

Mainstreet Steamboat Springs Manager Tracy Barnett said downtown bars and entertainment venues also have expressed interest in having the bus hours extended. She said extended bus service helps Go Alpine get people out of downtown, limiting noise and providing a safe alternative form of transportation.

"We want a vibrant downtown, but it causes conflict if (people) are waiting around for a ride," Barnett said. "And we want to help them. We don't want them to drive if they've had too much to drink."

To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

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