Trying to figure out the new federal law
The popular summer bus service to the town of Gothic and the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory is currently in a state of limbo.
For the past two years, the Mountain Express bus system has run buses between Crested Butte and Gothic approximately four days a week, twice a day. In 2007, Mountain Express picked up the tab. Last summer, RMBL, Gunnison County and the town of Crested Butte contributed to pay for the service.
But a federal law was passed in 2008 that was designed to help private charter services. Under the new regulation, if a public system like Mountain Express takes money from a third party and a private charter company wants to provide service, the public company could lose any federal funding it receives.
But because the buses would be scheduled and open to the public, no one knows if the feds would consider it charter service just because it is getting paid for the specific route. Thus, the question is whether the situation would put the Mountain Express federal grants into jeopardy.
Mountain Express operations manager Bill Quiggle said the bus system, the county and RMBL have sent a joint letter to the Federal Department of Transportation asking for clarification of the new regulation. “It’s pretty grey,” he said. “We are not sure this type of service falls under the new regulations.”
Alpine Express co-owner Stewart Johnson said his company had expressed an interest in bidding on and providing the service from Crested Butte to Gothic. “We put together some figures a while ago and haven’t heard anything,” he said.
RMBL executive director Ian Billick said he has no idea when the entities will hear from the feds about the clarification. “We want this to be considered public transportation in that corridor,” he explained. “It is a wonderful service. The ridership was great and for a new service it was extremely successful.
“Not only did the kids and people from town take it to Gothic, but people from Gothic took it to town,” he continued. “Mountain bikers would take it up so they didn’t have to take a brutal ride through the dust on that road. A good cross-section of people was using it. Obviously the kids coming to our classes and their parents felt it was a great thing. It was a win-win situation.”
Quiggle admitted the Mountain Express service was very popular the last two summers and eliminated vehicles from the road. “It was really popular with the kids going up to the RMBL classes,” he explained. “Before we ran the bus, every parent would drive up and drop their kids off and then drive back up to pick them up. It was a program that worked and is an important service.”
The service took place from the end of June until the middle of August. Service for the summer of 2009 is currently up in the air, pending the clarification from the feds.