Our view: Connect buses to housing | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: Connect buses to housing

— We were encouraged earlier this month to learn Steamboat Springs Transit had secured a $132,515 state grant enabling SST to restore a second bus to Craig (with stops in Hayden, Milner and Steamboat II) on weekends. And our reaction is about much more than mere convenience.

Mass transit is clearly a way to reduce traffic on U.S. Highway 40 west of Steamboat while serving as de facto ride sharing. The regional bus service, along with the city of Steamboat's permanent transit facility on the east side of Craig, also represents one of the most tangible examples of cooperation between the two cities.

In an autumn when we have become aware of the short supply of housing for workers in Steamboat, it strikes us that regional bus service will someday have a greater role to play in the future of the region.

In spite of some significant "wins" on the multi-family housing front this year, including the new market-rate Ski View Apartments on Whistler Road and the upcoming income-restricted apartment complex being carried forward by the Yampa Valley Housing Authority with a private sector developer, the housing shortage seems to be as acute as it has ever been. One morning earlier this month, the classified ads in this newspaper reflected just three available long-term rentals, including a one-bedroom condo with a stated rent of $1,600 per month. For us, that says it all.

We think that, over the long term, mass transit linking Steamboat with the smaller communities in north, south and west Routt County could become a vital piece of the answer to meeting the valley's housing needs by making the commute more practical and affordable. Commuters from Craig traveling to work in Steamboat can ride the bus for $165 per month, representing thousands of dollars in savings over operating a private vehicle, based on figures reported by AAA. Did we mention seniors ride for free and students for half price?

The regional bus (operated on comfortable over-the-road coaches) carried fewer than 27,800 passengers in 2014, and ridership has been trending higher this year. We realize those figures do not represent unique commuters, and by some measurements, the regional bus numbers are small compared to the numbers of people still commuting in private automobiles.

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However, it's our conviction the Yampa Valley has arrived at a point when it's no longer realistic to think all of the broader community's long-term housing needs can be met close-in to Steamboat. Certainly, there will be more opportunities to create housing in close proximity to people's jobs, and we should seize upon them. But we must anticipate a future when more and more people live down valley and commute to work up valley.

For that reason, a more robust transit system is inevitably part of our future. The short-term significance of restoring a second bus on weekends between Steamboat and Craig may be modest, but fostering the habit of using mass transit is a big deal over the long haul.