Surplus, dogs, Whetstone facility, green buses
[ By Kendra Walker ]
The Mountain Express, everybody’s favorite colorfully painted buses, continues its vision to be a vehicle for change for Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte with plans for growth, climate change mitigation and community-driven initiatives.
“I think getting on Mountain Express is a very community-oriented experience,” said Mountain Express managing director Jeremy Herzog to the Mt. Crested Butte town council last month. He shared 2021 updates and highlights, as well Mountain Express’ goals moving forward.
Herzog emphasized Mountain Express’ vision statement to be a convenient transit option for locals and visitors, the agent actively working to mitigate climate change, and the entity in the community that connects everyone to Crested Butte’s authentic sense of place.
According to Herzog, the Mountain Express saw 435,000 riders last year. The current Mountain Express fleet includes fifteen 38-foot buses, and six 26-foot buses. The average age of the bus fleet is seven years. Herzog noted that in 2021 there was only one accident with no injuries or anything of major concern, and 12 incidents mostly focused around COVID and masks.
Mountain Express also has a $1.1 million surplus, which came largely from CARES Act funds, and plans to use the surplus for long-term priorities, including staff retention, the new Whetstone bus facility and zero emissions vehicles.
Mountain Express also adopted the Late Night Taxi as the contracting agent, and moving forward has several goals for improvement, including offering the service 365 days a year, vehicle upgrades and expanded marketing. The contract will be re-evaluated this spring. According to Herzog, approximately 80% of folks taking the Late Night Taxi are riding up to Mt. Crested Butte.
The new dogs on the bus policy was also instated at the end of last summer, and Herzog shared that it has been going well. “We see about two to three dogs a day on average,” he said. “I’m pleased to report that we haven’t had any issues, no fights or accidents. The intoxicated people on the late night bus continue to be more a problem than the dogs,” he joked.
Looking ahead, Herzog shared some goals in Mountain Express’ five-year strategic plan, which will be revised annually. Service improvement and expansion remains a high priority in order to increase bus ridership and the service’s measured impact, along with continuous improvement to grow as an organization that employs and serves more people.
The Whetstone facility being developed in collaboration with the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) is another priority, which aims to accommodate growth and incorporate green bus technologies. To date, $1 million has been expended in land and professional services for the project, and construction costs are estimated at $9.2 million. Herzog said they anticipate moving into the Whetstone facility in 2024 or 2025.
Another goal is to eventually convert the fleet to electric buses and zero emission vehicles to reduce fleet emissions. The Whetstone facility will incorporate the charging stations needed to accommodate the anticipated green technologies.
Herzog also noted some other aspirational ideas that may be coming down the pipeline, including getting bus service out to trailheads, a mountain bike-friendly Gothic shuttle, a potential transit center and more pedestrian and bike-friendly programs, such as a bike share program.