A major step toward regional bus service means affordable travel from Durango to Grand Junction is around the corner.
The Southern Ute Community Action Program has been planning to expand their Roadrunner Stage Lines ever since Greyhound pulled out of the region 2½ years ago.
Funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation allowed SUCAP to recently purchase two used MCI coaches that will provide one round-trip route per day, passing through local towns along U.S. 160 and Colorado 145, and others.
"We have the buses, and they are in a shop in Farmington for refurbishing and fine-tuning," said Peter Tregillus, SUCAP program director. "We're in the process of hiring drivers, and if there are no more surprises we will be on the road this summer."
The route will start in Durango and make stops in Mancos, Cortez, Dolores, Rico, Telluride, Placerville, Ridgeway, Delta, Montrose, and end at the Greyhound terminal in Grand Junction.
One-way fare will be $40 from Durango to Grand Junction, and be prorated for shorter distances -for example, Cortez to Dolores will be $2, Cortez to Mancos $3, Dolores to Rico $6, Cortez to Telluride $12, Cortez to Durango $7.
There will be bus stops with a sign and schedule for each town, said Clayton Richter, SUCAP director of Roadrunner transportation. But not every town will have a ticket vendor. However, tickets can be purchased on-line or from the driver at an any stop.
Local ticket vendors will be located at the Durango Transit Center, at the Dolores Food Market, and in Montrose at the Travel Center near the airport.
Cortez has a bus stop but at this time does not have a ticket vendor, Richter said.
"We tried hard to find a vendor at the Highway 160-145 intersection in Cortez, but had no takers," he said. "Due to a tight schedule, our drivers won't have time to go all the way into downtown Cortez."
Tickets will soon be able to be purchased on the SUCAP Roadrunner website, www.roadrunnerstagelines.com.
In Cortez, the bus will pick up passengers at the Cortez Plaza, behind First National Bank. In Mancos, the stop is at the Chamber of Commence, in Dolores at the Dolores Market, in Rico at Mountain Top Market, in Telluride at the Society Turn Conoco, and at the Placerville Galloping Goose bus stop.
The two 51-passenger, coach-style buses for the Roadrunner route are similar to what Greyhound was operating, and cost $200,000 for the pair, Richter said.
They have luggage holds and bathrooms, and are climate-controlled.
Bicycles will be allowed on a space-available basis, and there will be two positions on each bus to accommodate wheelchairs.
The schedule reveals interesting opportunities. Cortezians could board the bus at 6:42 p.m. and arrive in Durango at 6:57 p.m. for dinner and a show, but would have to spend the night to catch the bus back.
The schedule would work out well for Durango mountain bikers. Enthusiasts could board the bus at 7 a.m. to Dolores, bike Boggy Draw trails all day, and catch the bus back to Durango at 6:29 p.m.
"The Phil's World trailhead will not be a scheduled stop," Tregillus noted.
Local residents could easily arrange an affordable round-trip weekend getaway to Grand Junction for businesses or entertainment. The round-trip fares to Junction will be $70 for Mancos, $64 for Cortez, and $62 for Dolores.
In winter, the schedule makes it possible to take the bus to Telluride for skiing, although the bus does not go into Telluride proper. However skiers could take the Galloping Goose town bus to the slopes.
Rural bus service like Roadrunner is subsidized by the federal government to provide citizens access to major transportation hubs.
When Greyhound quit the route, it left a lot of people who depend on affordable public transportation stranded.
"When I saw the news Greyhound was pulling out, I said 'Why can't we provide that route," Richter said. "So I made a presentation, started making phone calls and 2½ years later we are almost ready to go."