Starbucks in hand, Nicole Towne sat on the bus hoping to get to work on time. The recent Colorado State University grad had recently started an internship with the Town of Windsor. Keeping up with the shuttle’s schedule, she said, was a good motivator.
“I think ideally I’ll take it twice a week,” Towne said. “The seats are nice.”
Towne represents a growing population of commuters that Northern Colorado transit planners hope will ditch their cars in favor of the new Poudre Express. The public bus, which welcomed its first riders on Thursday, offers WiFi, padded seats and a first-of-its-kind connection between the region’s two largest cities.
It comes as more people than ever are commuting across the region. In 2017, the Census Bureau recorded an average of 14,000 people a day drove from Weld County to Larimer County for work. The reverse was even higher — 20,000 people from Larimer to Weld. That number is only going up, transit planners say.
The jump is fueling more traffic jams, car accidents and driver headaches. In response, planners and public officials are looking toward bus service as a solution.
“I think we recognize the growth that’s happening and the needs that it’s bringing in,” said Kristie Melendez, Windsor’s mayor. “Hopefully (the Poudre Express) will help ease some of that congestion.”
It’s also the first time the town of nearly 30,000 will have any type of public transportation service. Residents have been asking for an option for years, Melendez said.
“This is a top priority,” she said.
To attract more riders, the route is free for all of January. It has eight stops, including Colorado State University and the University of Northern Colorado. Once the free period ends, a one-way trip will cost $1.50.
Funding for the route came from several local governments, including Greeley, Fort Collins and Windsor. CSU chipped in. So did the Colorado Department of Transportation. Greeley-Evans Transit will oversee the route’s day-to-day operations.
“I see the Express as a way to show the region is growing together,” said Alex Gordon, a transportation planner with the North Front Range Metropolitan Planning Organization (NFRMPO). “All these communities might do things separately, but there’s a lot of things that come with collaboration.”
The Express launch is somewhat of a gamble. It isn’t the first time planners have tried launching a regional bus service in Northern Colorado.
In 2011, the NFRMPO axed grant funding for the 34-Xpress, a defunct route that whisked residents between the Greeley Mall and Centerra, the outdoor mall in Loveland.
“It just wasn’t very successful in terms of ridership,” Gordon said.
To prevent history from repeating itself, Gordon said planners surveyed residents and then selected “more strategic stops.” He also pointed to the growing popularity of services like theBustang and the FLEX regional route between Fort Collins and Boulder.
“There are a lot more examples of successful routes nowadays than when 34-Xpress existed,” Gordan said. “I think there’s more awareness, more marketing, more outreach.”
On the Poudre Express launch day, Joseph Thokey, a UNC student, sat with his headphones in. As the bus approached Greeley, he was the only one left besides the driver.
His parents had made the long drive from FoCo to pick him up for a New Year’s party a few days before. He didn’t have a driver’s license, so the Express symbolized a chance to get around on his own — other than walking or taking an Uber.
“It a lot easier on everyone,” he said. “I think I’ll use it pretty frequently.”
He hoped others would feel the same.