RTA bus ridership still growing

New Bustang trip added between CB and Denver

By Katherine Nettles

People in the Gunnison Valley seem to like to ride the bus, and transit authorities are trying to make that easier than ever in the coming years. The Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) bus ridership has shown increasing ridership for more than 12 months straight, and there is potential in 2024 to increase the number of trips throughout the spring, summer and fall to keep pace with the demand. At the November meeting, board members discussed this possibility, the coming addition of a second state-run Bustang trip between Crested Butte and Denver each day and other ways the RTA might expand its services in the next five years.  

 The RTA’s bus routes remained strong throughout the fall season with the September ridership up 20% and the October ridership up 26%, according to RTA executive director Scott Truex. The winter bus schedule started on November 22, with 41 daily round trips. “Forty-one is a really good schedule, so we’re excited about that,” said Truex.

Truex said the RTA is working with the CB South Property Owners Association to add a second Crested Butte South bus stop on Teocalli Road by the entrance to the subdivision in the next few years so people can access the commercial district more easily. Truex said it would not add mileage or much time to the existing route.

Truex announced that the RTA secured an extra $109,000 in grant funding to expand valley-wide bus service in 2024. 

“If sales tax revenues warrant it over the winter, I’d like to consider upping the spring, summer and fall schedule to 33 round trips,” he said. “The reason for that would be to get us to full day, half hour service. I think it would be really great service, so I’m excited about that extra grant money.”

The cost to make that change would be about $360,000, so sales tax revenues, which fund the RTA as a special district, would need to cover the remaining $250,000 after the grant funds were spent. “So we’ll see what the revenues do this winter,” said Truex. He told the board he would bring that agenda item back to them next year if it looked viable.

“It seems like every time we increase service, we increase ridership,” said board member Laura Puckett Daniels. 

There could also be a Park-and-Ride at Brush Creek Road in the next several years.  Truex said that at the request of RTA board chair Janet Farmer, he set aside funds in the five-year financial plan for a potential Park-and-Ride area to coincide with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) plans to redo the Brush Creek intersection. The initial investment would be $500,000 for the paving, he said.

No more CNG buses…for now

Truex said he plans to apply for a capital grant in 2024 for a new bus. He noted that the compressed natural gas (CNG) buses the RTA has been acquiring, largely with grant funding, for the past few years are no longer an option at this point since they are not currently in production as the market focuses on electric and diesel engines for public transportation vehicles. The RTA would therefore choose a diesel bus which is less expensive than CNG. Truex said hopefully CNG buses will be an option again in the future, since electric would not work in the RTA system.

“I feel consternation about the lack of the CNG buses and moving back to diesel,” commented Puckett Daniels. “I feel like one of RTA’s biggest wins is the reduction in emissions, and one of the county’s highest goals for our climate action plan is reducing greenhouse gas emissions via transportation. And I totally get that electric doesn’t work. I’m not pointing fingers at anyone; I’m just expressing my public frustration at this situation. And as part of the planning effort that we do going forward I would like to think creatively about how we could continue to meet our climate goals and not go backward,” she said.

“I think I can alleviate your concerns a little bit,” replied Truex. He said his understanding was that in terms of CO2 emissions diesel and CNG are similar. “They’re both fossil fuels. But the nice thing about methane is that we’re getting it recaptured…I understand your frustration. I feel it too,” he concluded. He said if there is a silver lining, it’s that from an operation standpoint, having a fleet that’s mixed creates a stronger system overall. “Because we only have two diesels, and they are our two oldest vehicles. And when a CNG pump goes down it’s a nightmare, because we only have one fueling source for the CNG whereas we have multiple diesel fueling sources” he said. 

The board agreed to continue the conversation about how to either reduce emissions or offset them in a verifiable way.

The board then held an executive session to discuss the potential to purchase real estate property at 500 S. Ninth St. in Gunnison to be used for vehicle storage. After the executive session, the board approved authorizing Truex to negotiate for the purchase. It is now under contract with a closing date in December. The list price was $350,000 but the RTA hopes to get it for less.

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