The COVID-19 pandemic and the associated public health orders coming down from state and local officials are affecting every aspect of life for resort economies. Schools, businesses and dining establishments conduct themselves under new and often-changing sets of rules aimed at slowing the pandemic, all the while creating a safer environment in which to do business, and thus keep the economy in motion. At Tuesday’s Telluride Town Council meeting in an afternoon work session, Telluride’s transit officials met with council for an eye-opening discussion of just how profoundly impacted running the Galloping Goose bus service will be this winter.
Town transit director Jason White said some good ideas came out of the discussion, but that challenges remain, most notably, operating at 50 percent capacity. Other edicts, as outlined in a memo from the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE), include six feet social distancing rules for non-family members, enhanced ventilation requirements and others.
For most Goose buses that means as few as seven riders and at peak winter hours — from 2-5 p.m. daily — those limitations are daunting.
“We normally transport 300 people per hour between 2 and 5 p.m.,” White said in an interview with the Daily Planet Thursday. “That will be 60 people per hour at the reduced rates. That’s an issue.”
In a memo to council, White and public works director Paul Ruud offered some solutions, including staffing the gondola plaza with wranglers to help control rider flow and communicate to waiting passengers.
“My drivers are wearing masks and enclosed in Plexiglas,” White said. “When a bus pulls up to the gondola plaza, skiers put their skis in the racks and climb on board. It’s really difficult to communicate to someone the bus is already full, or they can’t ride with someone outside their family. I’m not going to do that to our drivers.”
Instead, White said, wranglers can communicate public health requirements beforehand. While he said he and his assistant, Joe Dillsworth, would be available to fill that role, it was suggested that perhaps the seasonal Main Street Rangers could take on that duty, a solution that would free he and Dillsworth to possibly incorporate more buses into the route during peak times. Using personnel other than transit employees to wrangle would be “helpful” White said.
“I think that’s a great idea,” he said.
One factor White considered that could help alleviate rider numbers is whether Telluride Trail is open, which would limit how many people are coming off the mountain at the same time. With the gondola also operating at half capacity White said that could factor in to managing the numbers.
“That buys us some time,” White said.
White anticipated frustration from riders if a full bus skips a stop. Council member Tom Watkinson suggested that bus marquees could indicate if a bus was at capacity or would be running an east or west route. Others on council were concerned about losing reliability.
“We’re thinking about this from all angles,” White said. “There are lots of knowns and lots of unknowns, but we have the ability to remain flexible.”
Among those unknowns is whether the pandemic’s course alters ski area operations or if lodging limitations will serve to keep visitor numbers reduced.
“We don’t know the temperature until we see the season get underway,” he said. “We don’t know what we’re up against.”
As they have this summer, transit employees, per CDPHE health guidelines, keeping the buses cleaned and disinfected is a continual task, as well as being vigilant with customer education on mask-wearing, physical distancing, and hand-washing or sanitizing.
The other purpose of Tuesday’s work session was public outreach. Locals who better know their way around — as well as able visitors — will be encouraged to walk, if at all possible, to help alleviate rider numbers.
“We’d like to use wayfinding and possibly the wranglers to ask folks to please walk, if you can do so,” White said. “That will be the theme this winter.”
Telluride’s transit representatives have also brainstormed with gondola officials and San Miguel Authority for Regional Transportation staff in efforts to maximize services as much as possible under public health orders. As has been contemplated by gondola officials, White said offering hot chocolate for those waiting for buses could go far to ease any rider unhappiness.
“In a gondola line, you can see where you stand,” he said. “When you’re waiting for a bus, you don’t know where it is. That can be frustrating.”
Though initial plans discussed to address transportation issues brought on by historic events have merit, White said that remaining nimble in the face of the shifting landscape that the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought will be imperative for not only his staff and town officials, but for the public.
“If you stay still on a moving target, you’re gonna miss,” he said. “Our flexibility will be key.”
The winter schedule and resumption of gondola services begins today (Friday). Go to telluride-co.gov for bus schedules.