Mountain bus service resumes with new space for bikes

A passenger removes his bike from a rack last year on a North Central Regional Transit District bus at the South Capitol Rail Runner station. The transit district is kicking off its Mountain Trail summer route to the Santa Fe ski basin Friday with a new feature — bicycle racks. Clyde Mueller/New Mexican file photo

The public bus that shuttled passengers up the mountain to Ski Santa Fe this past season was successful enough that local governments have committed funding for another winter.

And the summer operating schedule for the North Central Regional Transit District’s Mountain Trail Route 255 will kick off this weekend with an additional feature: bike racks. This will enable bikers to travel up on the bus and ride down Hyde Park Road or one of the mountain trails in the Santa Fe National Forest.

This July Fourth weekend, the bus will have space for just three bicycles, but another rack is set to be fitted soon to allow as many as six bikes, said Jim Nagle, public information officer for the transit district.

At first, a decision on hauling bikes on the route was delayed due to objections from the U.S. Forest Service, which argued that more knobby tires could further erode backcountry trails. Nagle said there will be an effort to gauge any impact from bike riders, but in the end, the Forest Service “did not have jurisdiction to prevent” bike racks.

The ride up on the mountain on Mountain Trail route is $5. There is no fee down, Nagle said.

The summer schedule begins July 1 and runs through Aug. 31.

The Mountain Trail line provides service from the South Capitol Rail Runner station, with stops downtown and at Fort Marcy Ballpark, and proceeds up Hyde Park Road to recreational areas and businesses along N.M. 475. The route concludes at Ski Santa Fe. The service will provide two round trips daily on weekdays and three daily on the weekends. Monday through Friday, buses will depart the South Capitol train station at 9 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. On weekends, the service will start at 10 a.m., and additional buses will leave at 1 and 3:30 p.m., according to a schedule posted on the transit district’s website.

There will be no service Monday, July 4.

“Riders of the route are encouraged to be aware of the fact that vast sections of the mountain remain sacred to Pueblo tribes and Native Americans,” Nagle said in a statement. “The NCRTD acknowledges that concern and has been working with its Pueblo members to provide materials to inform riders to be respectful and to be stewards of the mountain.

“Riders are also encouraged to remain respectful of the trails within our state and national forests and always remember that they share the trails, often with hikers, bikers, pets, horses and wild animals.”

At a Wednesday morning meeting of the city’s Occupancy Tax Advisory Board, administrators from both the city and county said the winter pilot program for the bus was a success with some 5,000 passenger trips.

The bus operates with contributions of $25,000 each from the city and county, $15,000 from the transit district, $15,000 from the Rail Runner and $15,000 from Ski Santa Fe.

“It was extremely successful,” said David Griscom, the county’s economic development director. He said the winter route will resume Sept. 25 and operate until the end of the ski season in 2017. He also hopes the summer and fall routes will help establish the Sangre de Cristo Mountains as an outdoor destination, bringing recreationists up the mountain who can then bike or run down.

Randy Randall of Tourism Santa Fe, the city’s tourism bureau, said the bus route to Taos Ski Valley has been in operation for six years and ferried 6,000 riders this past season. Santa Fe’s route is almost as popular in a much shorter time.

One surprise, Nagle said, was that the line transported more passengers down from the ski area than up. That might be an indication that some skiers went up in a group, but the bus gave them flexibility to stay on the slopes longer and catch a ride down to Santa Fe, he said.

For more information on the Mountain Trail route, call 505-866-206-0754 or visit RidetheBlueBus.com.

Contact Bruce Krasnow at brucek@sfnewmexican.com.

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