Shuttle services, public transit ready to safely serve winter guests in Summit County
KEYSTONE — Music blared from the Keystone welcome center Friday morning as the season’s first visitors packed the River Run Gondola parking lot and stepped off buses into the village to make the most of Summit’s first resort opening.
The scene was a return to normalcy in a way, but it came on a day when Summit County enacted a new public health order to combat the ongoing spread of coronavirus throughout the area. Reminders of the pandemic continued to pervade through the more jovial atmosphere, including relatively stripped-down transit services.
But as more ski areas begin to open up and visitors from around Colorado and beyond make their way to Summit County, local transit services say they’re ready to meet the challenge of ferrying patrons back and forth from resorts and supporting local businesses.
“The big determining factor that brings everyone into our area is the resorts, so what they do definitely trickles down,” said Joseph Martinez, Breckenridge operations manager with the Peak 1 Express shuttle service. “We’re super excited. We love bringing people into the community, but we want to do it safely. We don’t want to do anything that puts our community here at risk. So we’re doing all we can to make sure we stay compliant with all the guidelines and do our best to help bring in those people to help local businesses.”
On Friday, Nov. 6, Summit County enacted a new public health order, which included language mirroring the state’s new public transportation guidance that went into effect Monday, Nov. 9, to help keep passengers and drivers healthy. Things won’t look too different for local services, with guidelines restricting buses and shuttles to 50% capacity, encouraging barriers around drivers, mandating face masks, and requiring either a “windows open” policy or some other fresh air supply to be running during operations.
Local shuttle service managers say they’re also cleaning and disinfecting their vehicles after each passenger drop-off at the airport or ski areas and that they feel confident the trip won’t present any additional health concerns for visitors who’ve already chosen to make the journey to Summit County.
“I really believe that all of our shuttles are as safe as flying in an airplane,” said Steve Zupparo, director of sales for Summit Express. “We all take measures when it comes to reduced capacity and health screenings of our employees, and our vehicles are disinfected after every run. As safety goes, I think the risk factor of an airport shuttle is probably less than any other part of someone’s vacation. … We’re not talking about hundreds of people mixing and mingling in our vehicles. Right now, it’s seven people down and seven people back.”
With new reservation systems at many of the area ski resorts, it’s unclear what exactly the crowds will look like this winter. But the shuttle services are expecting to be busy once peak season starts, and many are taking steps like increased frequency of trips or even offering more than one vehicle at a time to keep from having to turn guests away. Shuttle services also are offering private charters for groups that prefer not to take part in shared shuttle operations.
Transit companies that have been operating say community members and visitors have been happy with the services.
“I think people are cautious about traveling,” said Peter Griff, manager with Fresh Tracks Transportation. Fresh Tracks operated throughout the summer and fall, and Griff said they ran about three trips per day that were almost always sold out. “Most of the people we have come into contact with are concerned about what procedures we have in place for COVID, whether it’s masks or cleaning. They’re obviously focused on that, but they’re pleased that we’re responding in the appropriate way to it.”
Local bus services like the Summit Stage say they’re also prepared for an increase in ridership this winter. Chris Lubbers, Summit Stage transit director, said ridership initially dipped to about 40% of normal this summer after the service opened back up and has since recovered to about 60% of normal.
Lubbers said there will be some minor changes to winter services this year — which begin Nov. 22 — such as routes ending at about 11:30 p.m. as opposed to 2 a.m. given public health restrictions around bar and restaurant closings. He continued to say that 50% capacity restrictions could create issues at certain bus stops at certain times for all agencies, but officials are working to predict trouble areas and put contingencies in place to get ahead of possible issues.
“We’re really pleased with where we are and with the results we’ve had so far,” Lubbers said. “Folks really seem to be taking this seriously, and that obviously helps to protect our drivers and everyone else. We’re trying to keep everyone safe, and we have protocols in place based on public health advice here at the facility, as well. It’s as safe as any facility out there, so we’re taking it very seriously.”
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