Expanding alternatives: Interregional express bus service hits the road in Colorado

By Mary Ebeling

Bustang, Colorado DOT’s new interregional express bus service is part of the agency’s continuing effort to manage congestion on the I-25 and I-70 corridors. It is also part of the agency’s response to the growing public demand for transportation options for these congested highways. The service intentionally links to existing municipal and other public-transit options to provide efficient travel at either end of a trip. Bustang has great potential to provide a model for other agencies looking to expand multimodal regional services.

The service, which began July 13th, consists of 13 45-foot buses with 50 passenger seats.  The buses offer state of the art amenities that appeal to commuters, including bike racks, free WiFi, power outlets, USB ports, and restrooms. Buses are handicapped-accessible as well. Fares are priced at $0.17 per mile and run between $9 and $28 one-way depending on the pick-up location and trip distance. For context, AAA’s 2015 estimate for owning and operating a personal vehicle is $0.58 cents per mile, assuming 15,000 miles driven annually.

Bustang takes advantage of existing park and ride infrastructure to serve commuters traveling between Fort Collins, Loveland, Denver, Lakewood, Monument, Colorado Springs, Frisco, Vail, Eagle, and Glenwood Springs. Currently the service runs on weekdays, and the schedule focuses on serving the peak morning and afternoon commutes. The north line from Fort Collins to Denver and the south line between Colorado Springs and Denver are envisioned as serving primarily commuters whereas the western line from Glenwood to Denver will more likely serve essential services trips like medical or business appointments.

There has already been interest in expanding service to weekends, particularly for the western line running into the mountains from Denver. CDOT has expressed willingness to explore expanding service to weekends or off-peak periods once the service has been running long enough to identify additional needs. Decisions on adding service will likely be based on ridership numbers for the weekday service.

CDOT Bustang routesBustang’s initial funding of $10 million came from FASTER, Colorado’s program for funding roadway safety, bridge repair, and transit projects. Moving forward, the CDOT anticipates funding at about $3 million annually, with some of the operations costs covered through farebox revenue.

There’s a lot of excitement surrounding the new service. For example, in Colorado Springs, which lost commuter bus service to Denver during recession-driven budget cuts, the renewed service from Bustang is “absolutely welcome.” CDOT has also heavily promoted Bustang—the purple and black buses even claimed a spot amid the fancy horses and other livestock in the National Western Stock Show parade. Bustang, as CDOT’s first foray into running a transit service, may offer helpful lessons and/or best practices for other agencies facing similar challenges in managing congested highway corridors.

Mary Ebeling is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.