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Petition for Bustang route from Springs to mountains could boost economy, tourism, sustainability

The bus would travel from Colorado Springs Airport through Highway 24 to Chaffee County
Posted at 7:57 AM, Feb 07, 2024

BUENA VISTA — A push to launch a new Bustang Outrider route from Colorado Springs Airport (COS) to Chaffee County is gaining traction and could provide a number of benefits, according to the airport and other stakeholders.

“The introduction of a Bustang route would not only make COS a more attractive choice for air travel but would contribute to the growing demand for airport traffic for the Pikes Peak region,” said Greg Phillips, director of aviation for the Colorado Springs Airport, in a letter to CDOT.

“Along the route itself, local businesses, including restaurants, shops, and accommodations, stand to benefit, as well, positively impacting tourism and economies for these communities.”

The petition, found on change.org, has over 600 signatures and has already caught the attention of CDOT and its Bustang program.

The aim is to bring one of Bustang’s teal-colored Outrider buses from COS up Highway 24 to Buena Vista and Salida in Chaffee County, with possible stops along the way in Woodland Park, Lake George, and Hartsel.

“We really like to travel out of the Colorado Springs airport. So there's been times when I've begged and borrowed people for rides, that I've taken rides from strangers, that I've paid for taxis to get to Colorado Springs,” said Adrienne Schwartz, the person behind the petition.

Schwartz said she started the campaign selfishly, since she flies often and found the current Outrider route from Denver’s Union Station to Crested Butte frequently full and oversold.

But since the petition launched, she was excited to see the support from other Chaffee residents, realizing it could fill a large gap in service.

“We've gotten a lot of people who say, ‘I'd love this to pick up my parents from the airport. I'd love this for doctor's appointments. I'd love just to be able to go to the Springs for the day,’” said Schwartz. “And we have no public transit options currently.”

Michael Westheimer, a Buena Vista resident, said a bus option would help him easily decide to fly in and out of COS rather than Denver International.

Since the current Bustang Outrider from Denver Union Station to Crested Butte only picks up each way once a day, he said it’s a good option when there are seats available.

“Basically, you buy a hunting permit. And if the bus is full when it comes up out of Crested Butte, you’re standing on the side of the road, if I need to get to Denver, I just jump in my car and go.” said Westheimer. “But I think there are a lot of members of our community and visitors who don't have those resources. And so if you're stuck, you're stuck. And hotels are expensive. And you know, where do I go? And what do I do? And did I miss my flight?”

Schwartz said when she was initially researching how to get a Bustang route from the Springs, CDOT recommended starting with something like a petition. And because of its apparent popularity thus far, the campaign seems poised to move forward, CDOT said.

Looking at the popularity of routes like Denver to Crested Butte, Bustang Outrider is almost a victim of its own success. Jeffrey Prillwitz, program manager for Bustang Outrider, said it’s always been their highest demand route and there are “overloads” every day. They’ll be adding a second trip to that route soon, he said, which is already fully funded.

That may lessen the crowds on the current option, but there is still the desire to fill the gap in service from Colorado Springs to the high country.

“We look at a lot of the factors out there,” said Prillwitz when it comes to adding a new route. “Stakeholder interest. We do look at the population, the type of people who live in the routes. And longer routes, there needs to be this local support, local transit options, which in the mountains are very good.”

According to Prillwitz, the statewide Bustang system served 280,000 passengers last year, which was a 25% increase from 2022. The number of boardings just in Chaffee County was 18,000, which is a massive number when considering US Census data lists the total population of Chaffee just shy of 20,000.

“Compared to a lot of transit agencies, they are still recovering from COVID. They lost a lot of ridership. We massively regained,” he said. “Our biggest problem is keeping up with demand on the whole system. And of course, finding drivers and all the other issues that all transit agencies have.”

Prillwitz added there are a handful of other new rural routes they’re looking to launch in the coming years, including the COS to Chaffee proposal. The routes and buses are funded by Federal Transit Administration grants and state money through CDOT FASTER Grants. FASTER funds come via registration and rental car fees.

A new route like this, he estimated, would cost about $400,000 annually to operate, not counting the cost of the buses or operators. But Prillwitz seemed confident they’d move forward in the process, though it would be years down the line until it launched. He stressed local stakeholder interest and support of the counties are necessary next steps.

Chaffee County Commissioner Keith Baker said they’d vote unanimously to approve a new route if it were to come to a vote at the present.

“We're always looking for enhancements for the quality of life for our citizens and residents. And then also, there's a sustainability component of this initiative,” said Commissioner Baker. “It gets some cars off the road. The assumption is it would be safer for people because they aren't driving individually. They don't have the wear and tear on their vehicles, and they have more productive time they can read.”

Baker noted how Bustang offers WiFi so passengers can be productive as well or simply enjoy the scenery instead of worrying about the drive.

Baker also said a Colorado Springs bus route would help the large military population of his constituency.

“A lot of VA services are contracted out to providers and things now,” said Baker. “Medical appointments. There are cultural activities down there that people would like to be able to get to and from. Lots of upsides.”

A Bustang route could also bring in plenty more tourists to towns like Buena Vista, but Baker said it's worthwhile to offer new options for hikers, day visitors, and others while cutting down on parking and traffic issues.

“You'd be amazed at Tuesday morning 7 a.m., how many vehicles are headed this way,” Baker said. “So that's another component of it. Cleaner air and all those other sustainability benefits from having a bus service and getting some vehicles off the road. So it's safer, less traffic, less exhaust fumes.”

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Email senior reporter Brett Forrest at brett.forrest@koaa.com. Follow @brettforrestTV on X and Brett Forrest News on Facebook.

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