More riders than local transit systems have seen in years packed buses in Breckenridge and across the county in the first part of this year, a trend officials say may indicate a stronger local economy.
“When we're doing better economically as a whole community, we have higher (ridership) numbers,” assistant county manager Thad Noll said. “And that seems to be playing out this year as well. Our visitation is up, sales taxes are up, all those things are doing better.”
The Summit Stage saw a 4 percent across-the-board increase in riders in March from the same month last year, after several months on the rise. Total ridership in 2012 was up nearly 6 percent from 2011.
The Breckenridge Free Ride has seen even bigger gains. Passengers packed the local transit system in the first three months of the year, pushing it to the highest ridership levels in four years, since the peak in 2009.
“We're going in the right direction as well,” Breckenridge transit manager Maribeth Lewis-Baker said. “I was kind of surprised with how well we did in January with the snow taking so long to fall. … That to me says there's kind of a hint of some economic recovery going on.”
Ridership on the Free Ride was up more than 9 percent in January and February and nearly 12 percent in March, according to data from the transit system. More than 104,000 people rode the local transit system in March alone.
That number was still well below the peak of 133,244 passengers in March 2009.
The Free Ride's most popular route, the gray line, saw a 40 percent increase in March from the same month in 2012, possibly assisted by heavy snowfall that continued throughout the spring.
“The entire (system) trended really well and really strong,” Lewis-Baker said. “Our gray route is pretty much the lion's share of what we're doing.”
The gray route travels from the Breckenridge CMC campus to the Breckenridge Station and then on to Beaver Run and the Stephen C. West Ice Arena on the south side of town. Transit officials call it the valley floor route.
The Summit Stage also saw significant gains in late-night bus ridership.
The number of people who took advantage of the transit system's evening and early morning buses, which run until 1:45 a.m., increased almost 10 percent in March compared to the same month last year, although officials say it's more difficult to determine the reasons behind the late-night trend than overall ridership.
“That comes and goes,” Noll said. “It could be that restaurants and bar owners are promoting it more. It could be a crackdown by local law enforcement, or more education by local law enforcement.”
Studies have shown that gas prices can also influence ridership levels, Noll said, but generally does not have as great an impact as skier visits and the overall economy.