Breckenridge bus ridership increases by 42 percent
BRECKENRIDGE – “Free Ride” rock singer Edgar Winter would be so proud.
According to Breckenridge Transit and Parking Director Jim Benkelman, a variety of things are credited with making this past season’s bus ridership the best in the history of the town and the ski resort. And one of those things is the name of the bus route system: Free Ride.
Benkelman and ski area marketing specialists met last year to create a name to increase ridership – and get people out of their cars.
“We were just throwing around ideas,” he said of the brainstorming session. “We had things like “The Buzz;’ people would say, “Oh, I’m just waiting to catch The Buzz.’ Or the Breckenridge Area Transit – the BAT. People would say, “There goes the BAT-mobile, or the BAT-bus. We just hated all these ideas we were coming up with. Some of them were pretty lame.”
It was ski area marketing director Lucy Kay who brought the group back to reality.
“She said, “Wait, we’re getting off track. What is it this system does?'” Benkelman said. “Someone said, “Well, it gives people a free ride around town.’ And someone else said, “That’s it! The Free Ride.’ We’re going “Free Ride … Take it easy.’ Think of the marketing possibilities.”
“I love the name,” Kay said. “There are few things you can do in marketing that are universally liked, and that was really a home run. Now, if we could just get the music playing at the bus stops.”
Free Ride a bonanza
The Free Ride has paid off, Benkelman said. Ridership on the system last season was 192,603; this year it jumped 81,546, to 274,149. That doesn’t include ski area bus numbers, which totalled 894,978 this year. Statistics from the 2000-2001 season were not available.
In March alone, ridership on town buses increased 93 percent over the same month last year, from 37,879 a year ago to 73,107 this season.
Other factors that contributed to the success included a re-route of the Circulator, which used to go around the perimeter of the town and now uses a hub and spoke system, with the hub at City Market.
“It made it a lot more user-friendly to the guest,” Benkelman said.
The ski resort and town also consolidated much of their systems and developed a color-coded map and signage to make it less confusing. They changed the times – instead of every 20 minutes, buses hit each stop every half-hour, which is easy to remember – and created a variety of transfer points along the routes.
“It paid off,” Benkelman said. “It was huge. The numbers are unbelievable.”
The most popular route in the system is the Yellow Route that serves locals in the Breckenridge Terrace subdivision and tourists and locals going to the recreation center.
In January and February, it made up 46 percent of the system’s riders.
The J.B. Route – nicknamed after town Councilmember J.B. Katz who advocated extending the Warrior’s Mark route to include Ski and Racquet Club – was among the most successful route in the system, making up 28 percent of all the riders.
“It worked out great,” Benkelman said. “We were packed up there.”
The Main Street Express, although it only served 6,000 people – 2 percent of all those using the system – still was deemed a success. Town officials said they thought people would use it to get to town from the Sawmill and Watson parking lots. Instead, people walked to town and used the express to get back to the lots.
“It’s absolutely mandatory to have it,” Benkelman said of the route “It didn’t generate huge numbers, but in the first year, it takes people a while to get the hang of it.”
Ridership on that route doubled in January from December, and in February, it doubled again.
Benkelman believes only minor tweaking will be needed to make an ideal system – for now. The Yellow and Purple routes are used extensively by skiers who often take a longer time to get on and off buses, so more time needs to be allotted at some stops. Buses on French Street need to have more space between them, and signs need to be revamped a little.
This summer, transit officials will work to make the ski area and town buses look more similar, and think about future expansions, particularly year-round to Peak 8 and out to the Wellington Neighborhood and Vista Point.
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