Summit Stage bus ridership is ramping up as county slowly reopens
Transportation staff 'tentatively' eyeing early July for full-service reopening
FRISCO — The Summit Stage bus service is slowly but surely returning to normal, and officials are hopeful the service could make its way back to full operations sometime this summer.
The free bus service already has come a long way since it was shut down as part of the county’s public health order in mid-March, along with other public transportation and ride share services in the county.
“It’s been a slow process for everyone,” said Geoff Guthrie, the county’s transit operations manager. “Easily two-thirds of our year-round ridership is local workforce. And when all these shutdowns started occurring, just like with everyone else, our business fell off a cliff overnight. We shut down in mid-March, which is traditionally spring break and college visit season. Historically, we’re giving 8,000-9,000 people a day a ride, and it dropped to zero just like that.”
The Summit Stage began offering on-call services March 30, picking up passengers in vans in lieu of the full-size buses. According to Guthrie, the on-call service helped to determine which routes to reopen first, using data from ride requests to determine the level of demand in different areas of the county.
The Summit Stage launched three fixed routes in Summit County on April 27 — Frisco to Keystone, Breckenridge to Frisco and Silverthorne to Wildernest — on two-hour intervals, about one-third of normal service. But ridership is back on the rise as residents get used to seeing the buses make their way through town again.
From April 26 through May 2, the first week of service, 1,273 passengers used the buses. That number nearly doubled in the next week to 2,303 passengers. There were 609 passengers May 10 and 11 alone.
On Monday, Guthrie said his team added more buses to the fixed Summit County routes and increased frequency from two hours to one. He also noted the Summit Stage was getting a few calls from less traveled parts of the county, where on-call service continues, and commuter areas like Lake and Park counties. New routes were added to both counties this week.
“It’s good because it means people are getting back to work,” Guthrie said.
The commuter routes will remain free for the time being to prevent any unnecessary contact between drivers and passengers, one of several safety protocols implemented by the service to help protect patrons.
In addition to sectioning off seats on the bus to ensure social distancing and requiring masks, Guthrie said buses also were undergoing regular disinfection, including of the heating, ventilation and conditioning systems.
“Our maintenance crews have been unbelievable in their hazmat suits, doing daily disinfecting of the few buses and vehicles we’re operating,” Guthrie said. “… Really, we’re an essential service for some people, and we should be there for them. We’re trying to make it as safe as humanly possible for them.”
While it remains to be seen when exactly the Summit Stage will see another ramp up in routes or a return to full operations, Guthrie said there’s very tentative ambitions to get things back to normal in July, at the discretion of the Summit Board of County Commissioners and the Summit County Public Health Department.
“This is all driven by case numbers, and the public health department’s decision-making process,” Guthrie said. “But if the trend continues, and we’re not really ascending in case numbers, I would be confident of incrementally restarting service in stages over the next eight weeks. … I would imagine we would be pretty close to full service. But we’ve seen this stuff change overnight.”
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