Scott Franz: What I learned by riding the bus | SteamboatToday.com

Scott Franz: What I learned by riding the bus

A long line of riders waits to board a Steamboat Springs Transit bus at the base of Steamboat Ski Area in January.

— As we rolled through downtown Steamboat Springs on the Blue Line Friday morning, Ray Maldonado held up his Playstation Vita and explained why his handheld gaming system is so handy these days.

“I waited 28 minutes one night in front of Riggio’s to catch the Aqua Line” to continue my trip home to Copper Ridge, Maldonado said as he described how the city’s recent cuts to the winter bus schedule were affecting him. “That’s a true story.”

When he waits for the bus, he stays busy on the Playstation.

George Fasciano, who lives in the Rockies Condominiums, sat behind me on another Blue Line that was traveling near the base of Steamboat Ski Area.

He told me it’s harder for him now to run errands like going to the post office and the grocery store because of the route changes.

The Purple Line that services his condominiums no longer runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. because of the cuts, meaning he sometimes has to walk farther to catch a bus headed downtown.

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“It was good as it was,” he said referring to last year’s level of service. “Why are they cutting back? The young people can put up with all this, but for us older folks, it’s tougher.”

With many Steamboat Springs residents now complaining about the city administration’s decision to pare down the winter bus schedule because of driver recruiting challenges, I decided it was time for me to hop aboard a bus and take a few laps around the city to talk to riders about how the service changes were impacting them.

Maldonado and Fasciano’s stories were two of the several I jotted down as I rode about three laps around the city on a variety of bus lines during the morning and evening rush hours.

Across the city, I saw many residents and visitors hop on and off the buses to meet friends for lunch, to get to work, to get their mail and to haul two carts worth of groceries back to a condo.

Somewhere between my first loop between the KOA Campgrounds and the Gondola Transit Center, I learned the cuts have impacted some community members like Maldonado greatly, while others aren’t really feeling the changes.

I also learned the drivers, who often went out of their way to make sure passengers knew where they were going, still are as friendly and cool as ever.

It was good to hear veteran driver and former Chicago Bears linebacker Gary Campbell still singing along to the radio as I interviewed passengers.

Some had stronger reactions to the cuts than others.

Maldonado’s story wasn’t unlike that of other west Steamboat residents who rely on the bus as their sole transportation.

Dustin Jackson and another man who live at the KOA campgrounds needed only two words to describe the bus service cuts.

They called the changes “terrible” and “awful” and recounted a time when a bus didn’t show up as scheduled one evening.

On the same buses, a number of other riders either shrugged when I asked about the effect of the cuts or weren’t feeling them.

Rider Aaron Wesche said he “enjoys the bus service when the buses are on time.”

“It’s usually alright, but there are a few hiccups,” he said.

A family visiting from Atlanta that squeezed onto the bus with armfuls of groceries reported they found the bus system convenient and useful after a learning curve that lasted a day.

And Hayden resident Jeff Cunningham, who was waiting for the Aqua Line at the stop outside of Riggio’s, said he didn’t think the cuts were a big deal.

My rides Friday were smooth and weren’t marred by any significant delays, but I have heard enough from friends and community members to know several bus lines are experiencing them.

City Manager Deb Hinsvark told the City Council last week about 50 to 60 percent of the routes were running behind.

Some residents in places like Old Town and Fairview are going without on-call buses altogether under the new schedule. And some riders were especially frustrated with new bus-to-bus transfers.

So what else did I learn after my three-plus hours of riding?

More than anything, I stepped off the bus at Stock Bridge Transit Center with several stories and more of an appreciation for the many people who depend on the local bus system that carries more than 1 million riders each year.

I also learned that to get the community’s pulse on something like bus service, you can climb aboard one and just start riding around in circles.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

How many local workers ride the bus?

Local economist and city council member Scott Ford recently pulled some U.S. Census data to get some insight into the year-round workforce that uses the bus system.

Here are some observations from Ford:

• Of the 10,000 workers in the area about 5 percent are using the bus to get to work. Assuming that they work five out of seven days this would translate to about 250,000 SST passengers. Add in non-workers using SST, occasional residents who use the bus sometimes but not as a primary means of transportation and our part-time residents, locals could reasonably account for 2 times the 255,500 or up to 500,000. If we assume that the SST annual passenger account is about 1 million – the local population (loosely defined) is likely accounting for 60 percent and more of the passenger traffic.

• Of the workers using the bus as their means of transportation to work about 60 percent are 24 and younger.

• About 40 percent of the workers riding the bus are from households at or below the federal poverty level.

• The highest concentration of workers are in the following two industry sector clusters:

  • Professional, scientific, management and administrative and waste management services (27 percent)
  • Arts, entertainment, recreation and accommodation and food services (21 percent)

• About 85 percent of the workers riding the bus are living in renter-occupied housing.