Colorado skiers and hikers could be taking advantage of hourly shuttles from Denver to Summit County, Vail and Avon by the end of the year if a proposal by CDOT is approved this month by the Colorado Transportation Committee.
The CDOT program would augment its existing Bustang service, which offers limited weekday bus service between Denver and Grand Junction, and its weekend Snowstang bus service in the winter to the Loveland ski area, Arapahoe Basin and Steamboat Springs. The new service would employ 14-passenger “micro-transit” vans departing hourly on peak travel days — Friday through Sunday, and on holidays — during the ski season and the summer tourist season.
“We’re going to communicate this as the start of trying to get 300 to 400 cars an hour off the road,” said Michael Timlin, interim director of CDOT’s transit and rail division. “We hope to make some inroads in that. That’s kind of CDOT’s philosophy, we want more choices out there, more multimodal options besides the private automobile. And these 14-passenger vans will be taking a few cars off the road, therefore it will help with greenhouse gas emissions, which is very, very important to this state.”
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The CDOT proposal was presented to the transportation committee last month and could be approved at its meeting on April 16.
The vans would be permitted to operate in express lanes on Interstate 70. The service would operate between Denver Union Station and Avon, with intermediate stops at RTD’s Federal Center Station in Lakewood, Frisco and Vail. Mountain stops would offer connections to local transit services.
Proposed fares would be $14 from Denver to Frisco and $20 for Denver to Vail or Avon. Discounts would be available for multiple-ride purchases. For example, a 20-ride purchase would result in a 20% discount.
If successful, the “micro-shuttle” service could be especially attractive for users when the next I-70 expansion program in the mountains begins. Still in the planning stages, that project would expand the interstate to three lanes from where it pinches down to two lanes at Floyd Hill to the junction with U.S. 6. That project would include replacing a bridge over Clear Creek, Timlin said.
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While the micro-shuttle service still needs to be approved, Snowstang service to ski areas is set to resume in December. That service was inaugurated in the 2019-20 ski season but was canceled this season due to the pandemic. Timlin said Loveland, Arapahoe Basin and Steamboat are on board again for next season, and CDOT is hopeful other ski areas will join the program before the start of the next ski season.
CDOT also plans to resume weekend and holiday bus service between Denver and Estes Park beginning Fourth of July weekend. That was inaugurated as a pilot program two years ago and would have operated last year if not for the pandemic. The Estes Park service will operate through Oct. 3 to accommodate the beginning of elk-bugling season.
CDOT sees the micro-shuttle concept as an option for other destinations in the Front Range.
“If this takes off, which we believe it will — because we’re using smaller vans and they’re a lot cheaper to procure — we can expand it to other originations along the Front Range from Thornton to Lone Tree, to Castle Rock possibly, and maybe other destinations west of Avon,” Timlin said. “Maybe one would go up to Winter Park or Steamboat. We’ll see.”
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