Not everyone has a reliable car. Many people can’t drive because of a health or legal condition, and others simply prefer to let someone else take the wheel, especially in winter.
So when the Bustang Outrider began offering daily round-trip bus service from Durango to Grand Junction a few years ago, it opened up travel opportunities for Four Corners residents community. Now, CDOT is expanding the route, even in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A recent trip on the brand-new Bustang Outrider from Dolores to Ridgway saw slim ridership, which has been down by more than half since the pandemic hit, said driver Dennis Ivie.
Just eight people rode the bus Sunday between Durango and Grand Junction, down from the usual 24 to 38 per day six months ago.
“We’re on a mission to bring numbers back up, raise awareness we’re back,” Ivie said. “We’re taking precautions.”
Masks are required, and passengers’ temperatures are taken to detect fevers. The 32-seat bus is at 50% capacity to allow passengers to be spread out more.
The few riders enjoying the trip Sunday represent the demographic that bus service targets.
Senior Betty Stafford, of Grand Junction, does not like long-distance driving, and rides Bustang to visit her granddaughter in Bayfield every month.
Student Hahni Johnson, who attends Colorado Mesa University, does not have a car, and rode Bustang to Durango to go mountain biking with a friend.
Brad Jones of Durango traveled to Rail Fest in Ridgway and has a disability that prevents him from driving.
They all were grateful for the ride and enjoyed the blazing fall colors of the route through the San Juan Mountains.
“The drive through the mountains is breathtaking, and the coach is very comfortable,” Stafford said. “Honestly, I’m not the best winter driver, and it is pretty scary, so this is much safer. It’s nice to have a professional do the driving, while I relax and enjoy the view.”
She said that when the bus shut down for several months because of COVID, she could not visit her family.
“I really missed my grandchildren,” Stafford said.
It is also more economical than driving. The trip from Durango to Grand Junction is $43, but with her senior discount it is just $22.
“That is cheaper than driving,” she said.
Johnson has relied on the bus to go mountain biking in Telluride and Durango. She found the Bustang service via Google.
“It’s convenient and simple,” she said.
Jones takes the bus a few times a year to go skiing in Telluride or biking. He boarded Sunday to check out Rail Fest in Ridgway, which featured the Galloping Goose rail buses.
Veterans seeking medical care at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Grand Junction also rely on the bus, said Jay Rhodes, director of Roadrunner Transit, which runs the Bustang in cooperation with CDOT.
Bus offers recreationIvie, the driver, said the schedule is also right to take the bus for a day of skiing at Telluride. He said recreationists also use it to hike or bike, then catch the bus on the return trip to go home. There is a bike rack on the front of the bus.
This reporter got off at Ridgway, bicycled over Dallas Divide, and caught the bus in Placerville for the ride home to Dolores.
A professional driver, Ivie lost work driving recreation school buses in Farmington because of cutbacks from the pandemic. He recently landed a job with the Bustang Outrider and was on his maiden voyage Sunday.
“I’ve got the best view,” Ivie said. “It’s great the route goes over Lizard Head Pass, it is easier and safer than Red Mountain Pass.”
Before Bustang took over the route, Greyhound did go over Red Mountain Pass.
Now the route goes through Durango, Cortez, Dolores, Rico, Ridgway, Montrose, Delta and Grand Junction. For now, only cash is accepted for fares.
“With all the leaves changing, we’re getting riders who just want a relaxing, scenic tour through the mountains,” Ivie said.
The Bustang Outrider service operates two Vanhool CX35 coaches equipped with 350-horsepower Cummins diesel engines. They were purchased new in 2017 and 2019 for an estimated $470,000 each. The bus is equipped with seat belts for every passenger.
At 35 feet long, the Vanhool coaches allow for improved handling on curvy mountain roads, Rhodes said. They are equipped with a bathroom and Wi-Fi, and have automatic drop-down chains for snowy roads.
“The engine is right on top of the rear axle providing good traction, power and control,” Ivie said.
Bus route to expandCDOT is seeking public comment on a plan to add a new Bustang Outrider route between Telluride and Grand Junction, said CDOT communications manager Bob Wilson. The services is scheduled to begin in summer.
An online survey is available for residents along the proposed route to provide feedback on potential bus stops, schedules, and other aspects of the service. The survey is available through Oct. 31 at www.surveymonkey.com/r/Telluride-GJ.
“We want to hear directly from those who plan to use these routes to make sure we’re providing the best service possible and helping to improve transportation connections across the state,” said CDOT’s Director of the Division of Transit and Rail David Krutsinger.
Wilson said Bustang plans to introduce more flag stops as well along the Durango to Grand Junction route. Flag stops are typically at intersections or small communities that are not regular stops. The bus will stop when a person indicates they want to board.
In addition to the Telluride-Grand Junction route, CDOT proposes three other routes for implementation next year: Craig-Denver (early 2021), Trinidad-Pueblo, and Sterling-Greeley (both summer 2021). Virtual public meetings were held in July and August for all four proposed routes to collect input from community members.
For more information, go to ridebustang.com