Back on the bus 

State set to unveil new coach service between the Springs and Denver in early 2015

As soon as March, you'll be able to skip the hassle of driving Interstate 25 and simply hop on a luxury bus to Denver.

The Colorado Department of Transportation is on schedule to unveil interregional bus service early next year. High-end, handicapped-accessible buses, similar to Greyhounds, will take passengers between Denver and Colorado Springs, Denver and Fort Collins, and Denver and Glenwood Springs.

The buses will have bathrooms, reclining seats, trays, wi-fi, plug-ins, bicycle racks and storage compartments. A ride will cost $10 to $28 one-way, with the Springs-to-Union-Station route $12. You'll be able to connect to a bus to Denver International Airport from Union Station for an additional $11. Discounts will be available with the purchase of multiple-ride passes.

The interregional service — whose name has not been announced — is new ground for the state, which has long offered funding to local transit agencies but has never run its own transit operation before. Mark Imhoff, director of CDOT's transit and rail program, says that both he and the Transportation Commission felt it was time that the state step into that role.

"There's over 50 transit agencies throughout the state," he says. "You can't get between any of them."

The bus may sound familiar. From 2004 to late 2012, the Front Range Express bus offered weekday service between Denver and Colorado Springs. FREX, as it was known, was initially funded for three years by a grant.

When the grant expired, CDOT paid for 19 buses to continue the service, which was run by the Springs' Mountain Metropolitan Transit. Other local governments along the route agreed to help pay, but backed out during the recession. The Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority funded FREX until Mayor Steve Bach killed the route, saying money was better used elsewhere.

FREX service ended as CDOT was considering taking over the system and its expenses. CDOT Commissioner Les Gruen, who represents our area, said at the time he was disappointed, but that he understood the city's decision and promised the state would continue its work to replace the bus service. He says now that he's excited that the new buses are "on the assembly line."

The 13 buses, which are costing the state $7.3 million, should be finished in November. The state has already hired Horizon Coach Lines to operate them at a cost of approximately $2 million a year. Once the buses are built, the drivers will need to be trained to operate them, which is the reason for the delay.

Imhoff says the money for the buses is coming from FASTER (Funding Advancements for Surface Transportation and Economic Recovery Act of 2009), which raised vehicle registration fees and fines to produce about $200 million a year for state transportation projects. About $15 million a year is dedicated to transit projects, and the bus service will be funded with that money.

Once the buses are running, there will be six round-trips daily between Denver and Colorado Springs, mostly during peak riding times. Imhoff says if the bus sees a lot of use, the fares collected will be used to expand the service.

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