Connie Preston used to drive her vehicle from Craig to Steamboat Springs five days per week for 15 years to get to work. The trip wasn’t always easy.
The cost of gas, oil, snow tires and basic maintenance was tough on her budget. And winter driving with traffic was a headache.
About six months ago, that changed when Preston no longer had the use of her car, forcing her to take the regional bus service that makes two one-way trips to and from Craig and Steamboat Springs each weekday morning and evening.
She loves it.
“I am so grateful I have the bus to ride,” Preston said.
Preston is one of many Yampa Valley residents who recently decided to start utilizing the Steamboat Springs Transit. Since 2010, the number of people using the bus to get to and from Steamboat has been steadily increasing, according to a report of regional ridership numbers released by Steamboat Springs Transit. Ridership has gone up by nearly 10 percent each year in the past four years.
As of September 2012, the report noted there had been about 18,600 riders, and that number jumped to 20,700 riders by September of this year.
Yet the numbers haven’t touched the previous spike that occurred just before the recession took a toll on the Yampa Valley.
In 2008, Steamboat Springs Transit, saw nearly 38,000 regional riders. But that number took a sharp dive as people lost jobs that necessitated the commute. In 2009, roughly 26,000 people took the bus, and that dropped significantly again in 2010. However, Jonathan Flint, transit manager for Steamboat Springs Transit, is confident the numbers will continue to be promising.
“Since (2010) we’ve seen a steady growth and it’s growing even more this year,” Flint said.
Riding the bus has been a thrifty choice for Preston.
“I was probably spending $68 to $80 a week on my car (on gas) and that’s not counting oil and tires,” she said.
She now spends just about $40 per week on her bus pass and gets a more comfortable ride overall.
On average, commuters can save roughly $10,000 per year on gas money by using the bus Flint said.
A $40 bus pass offers 10 rides for a commuter and isn’t limited to one week.
“There is no expiration date on a pass,” Flint said.
But affordability isn’t the only reason people choose to ride instead of drive.
“It’s very pleasant. I can sleep all the way through. I play music. People are friendly,” Preston said.
Part of the growth in ridership has to do with the recovering economy, but the type of people who use the bus also are becoming more diverse, he said.
“People were very much transit dependent who rode the bus,” he said. “What we’re seeing now is it is much more a transit choice.”
Commuters who have cars still are choosing to take the bus. If given the option, Preston said she wouldn’t make the drive anymore.
“I would rather ride the bus than drive. Now that I’ve experienced it,” she said.
Colleen Wilkonson lives in Craig but works at the Colorado Workforce Center in Steamboat Springs and started using the bus in 2010.
“It was so expensive and hard on my car to drive every day,” she said.
For her, the weather was a pretty strong factor as well. Winters would be too brutal of a time to drive, she said.
“If I didn’t have that bus, I wouldn’t have a job,” she said. “I totally feel safer in that bus than I do in my own car.”
Even one of the bus drivers, Darrin Bevel, agreed. He said he felt safer driving the bus.
“I’d much rather drive the bus than my car,” he said. “Our maintenance staff here does a really good job. They keep decent tires on it year round. I’ve never had to throw chains on it.”
Flint said he expects the numbers of riders will continue to rise as the economy gets better.
“It’s the canary in the mine letting us know the economy is coming back,” he said.
Erin Fenner can be reached at 970-875-1794 or efenner@CraigDailyPress.com.