HOP, SKIP, and JUMP aboard a Boulder Bus
Welcome to an innovative way of thinking about transit: ask your passengers to design routes, let them name them, and decide the frequency in which they operate. That's what Boulder, Colorado does and they sure seem to have discovered the right way to make bus riding fun and enticing!
Boulder boasts seven high-frequency bus lines with catchy, character-verb names like: STAMPEDE, DASH, BOUND, and BOLT, with all of the buses having their own color scheme and identity. It all started back in 1989 when Boulder endeavored to provide a real alternative to the car for its downtown commuters and as a result gave residents direct input into the process. In addition to creating comfy, frequent, pleasant buses, the city also instituted the Eco Pass, a transit card that allows residents to ride buses system-wide for free - more than doubling transit use between 1995 and 2005, from 15% to 34%.
Not that anyone is asking, but my suggestion for a new bus name: the ZIGZAG. Who wouldn't want to ride that?
Clarence Eckerson Jr.:
[00:03] Streetfilms is in Boulder, Colorado.
Cris Jones: [00:22]
In Boulder we have seven high frequency transit routes called the Hop,
Skip, Jump, Bound, Dash, Stampede and Bolt. And each of the routes
has a unique identity, and that is designated by the logo that you’ll
see at the bus stop, and the actual look and feel of the bus itself.
We’ve had graphic designers create cool, interesting graphics that
are placed all over the buses.
Myriah Conroy: [00:44]
They’re smaller buses. The drivers play their music, not too
loudly, and they’re just much more of a Boulder flair type of bus.
They run on really just popular routes from various destinations around
town. And my kid knows them all by just the skin that’s on them
because they all have really distinctive looks.
John Tayer: [01:01]
What is unique about these transit systems is they’re not operated
and envisioned from the top down, from the transit agency and then imposed
on the community. Instead, they’re really built from the bottom
up, from the grassroots.
Cris Jones: [01:15]
Boulder is a city of just over 100,000 people and on any given day we
have over 20,000 people boarding local transit services, and over 30,000
people boarding local and regional transit services. So more than
a quarter of our population essentially is riding on a bus on any given
Will Toor: [01:40]
If you were to go back to 1990 and ask about what role did public transit
play in Boulder, it was essentially a social service for people who
had no other choice about how they got around. Around that time
period, folks began sitting down and saying, this isn’t what we want,
we want to maintain the social service but we want a public transit
system that can compete for people who have other choices. Out
of that came the idea of a new model where we would be offering high
frequency routes that came every few minutes, routes would have a friendly
feeling so you didn’t feel like you were a criminal when you stepped
on the bus, instead you felt like you were a valued customer.
Routes would have a very simple route, either basically straight line
up and down or going in a circle.
John Tayer: [02:22]
The city convened a group of citizens who then considered, okay, what
should be the character of this bus system? What would be a good
name? What would be a good colour scheme? What would be
a good image and marketing strategy for this system.
Will Toor: [02:35]
We really came to that by talking to people and asking, well, what would
make you want to ride the bus? And, you know, it wasn’t rocket
science but it was just what any private business would do.
Cris Jones: [02:52]
One of the first projects that the Transportation Department set out
with was the creation of the Eco Pass, which is a universal bus pass
that makes users eligible to ride any of the transit system throughout
the region at no charge. So that was our first tool to really
increase transit use throughout the community.
Will Toor: [03:11]
And what we’ve seen is that a combination of the transit passes where
a Downtown parking district, you know, people who are paying those parking
permits and paying the meter fees, are actually helping to pay for Eco
Passes for everybody who works in the Downtown.
Cris Jones: [03:25]
Here we are sitting on the Hop, it’s the city of Boulder’s flagship
transit service. We’ve got music playing on XM radios, we’ve
got comfortable seats where people face each other so we can have conversations.
We have friendly drivers who we know their name because they have their
name tags up on the windshields. It runs every seven to ten minutes
from 7am to 7pm. So it’s really convenient and it’s based
on what the community told us they wanted. They didn’t want
to carry a schedule anymore and so we provided a service that they didn’t
John Tayer: [03:53]
I came to the city of Boulder when they were first instituting the Hop.
What then became such a success that we then had to consider how to
replicate it and sell it to our Regional Transportation District, which
is the funding source for the transit in the Denver area.
[04:16] I do think we have a great network of buses here in Boulder
and I also especially love that you can take your bike on the front.
[04:23] The public transportation buses throughout the city, and actually
throughout the Denver metro region, accommodate bikes on the bus.
A bike rack for two bikes is on the front of the bus, and all of our
regional buses, you can store your bike underneath. Normally when
you’re commuting in during the week, they’ll let you get about six
bikes under there. There’s three luggage racks, two per luggage
Cris Jones: [04:47]
Bike to transit is a very popular mode for people trying to get to the
city of Boulder and around the city of Boulder. There are some
destinations where it’s much more logical to get there by bus, but
otherwise you’re riding your bike. With so many people riding
their bike, they also have an Eco Pass, we want to provide a way for
them to get their bike to the bus stop, if the bike rack on the bus
is full, we need them to have a place to lock up their bike so they
can still take their transit trip.
[05:13] Boulder is a great place to raise a family and one of the main
reasons is that transportation is so easy. The kids start riding
bikes to school at a very young age and then start taking the bus around
town. I think it’s very different from growing up in many places
where you have to wait for someone to come home and take you to your
friend’s house, or take you down to the mall for something to do.
And it means that the kids have a sense of freedom growing up and they
learn to ride the buses and use them.
Cris Jones: [05:48]
The lesson that other transit agencies and transit planners can learn
from what we’ve done here in Boulder is don’t make assumptions about
your customers. The best thing to do is ask them what they want
and give it to them. On our peak months we’ve carried over 24,000
passengers per day. Compared to a similar sized city, Longmont
down the road, their local bus system carries under a thousand passengers
per day on their entire local transit system. So it’s been a