Thursday, July 9, 2020

Mountain Express looks at cutting out Judd Falls trips

Annual update includes more bus and property purchases

by Mark Reaman

The Mountain Express board of directors is considering discontinuing the summer service to the Judd Falls area above Gothic this summer. That was part of a report from Mountain Express transit manager Chris Larsen to the Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte Town Councils.

Larsen’s reports indicated that the service to Gothic that runs from early June to mid-August was down about 2 percent from the summer of 2017. But the bus to Gothic will run this coming summer.

“Gothic ridership in 2018 was 4,228 passengers,” explained Larsen. “This includes the 373 passengers who got on or off at Judd Falls. We keep track of the Judd Falls ridership separately to see if anyone is using it.”

Larsen said it is not definite whether the bus service to the stop by Judd Falls will run this coming summer.

“Mountain Express provided extended service to the Judd Falls parking area this last summer and while ridership did increase there wasn’t any change in the number of vehicles parking in the area and the traffic congestion was just as bad,” according to the report. Larsen said ridership to Judd Falls was up about 7 percent, or 24 more passengers, from in 2017. Whether Mountain Express continues to the Judd Falls stop is yet to be determined.

Overall, summer bus service that ran through September 30 was down about 1 percent. Larsen said the bus operation would continue to work with the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) and supplement trips between Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte South. Mountain Express provides six round trips per day and Larsen said the buses carry about 45 people per day. The Crested Butte South Property Owner’s Association helps fund that service to the tune of $16,500.

Taking care of the employees

Larsen emphasized in his report that the board understands that the employees are the strength of the bus system and “turnover continues to be low.” Two new drivers were hired before the start of the winter season and five new drivers have been hired in 2019.

Drivers can obtain limited health benefits the first year if they qualify by driving 25 hours per week during ski season. Those benefits apply only during the winter season they are working. As of 2019, year-round health benefits kick in for workers after five years of employment. Salaries and hourly wages were also increased by 8 percent in 2019.

While the normal bus service runs until midnight during the winter season, there are times during special events, such as the Attitude Adjustment Party, Mardi Gras and New Year’s Eve, where the bus extends its hours until 2 a.m. Last year during such special events, the Mountain Express worked an additional 59 hours and carried 2,450 passengers.

As far as the physical fleet, Mountain Express has 14 big 39-passenger buses and six small 24-passenger ones. The large buses are an average of five years old and typically have about 104,000 miles on them. The small buses average four years old and 55,000 miles. During peak ski season days the system uses six town buses and three condo buses along with the Crested Butte South bus. The remaining buses are used as backups and rotated in and out of the operations.

Future location in motion

The Mountain Express purchased a Whetstone Industrial Park lot and split a second lot with the RTA. Those will be used initially for bus storage with the idea that the bus system can obtain a grant to help plan and build a new maintenance facility on the site. The towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte donated $100,000 each to help purchase the lots.

The 2019 budget anticipates revenues of about $1.8 million primarily through the sales tax collected by the two towns. Expenses are budgeted at just under $1.7 million.

The board hopes to obtain grants to help purchase three more buses in 2020.

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