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There are only six other passengers when I board CDOT’s purple passenger bus bound for Colorado Springs on a chilly January morning. So I’ve got my pick of the 51 plush, power outlet– and USB-equipped seats. Naturally, I gravitate toward the back of the bus, where all the cool kids sit, until they realize the seats are right in front of the bathroom. Placing my laptop and coffee on the tray in front of me, I think of one of my favorite Jerry Seinfeld lines: “The bus is the single stupidest, fattest, slowest, most despised vehicle on the road.” But as we pull out of Union Station at 7:50 a.m. and wedge ourselves into traffic on I-25, I realize there’s a caveat to Seinfeld’s point. The bus is the most despised vehicle on the road—unless you’re the free Wi-Fi–enabled passenger sitting comfortably inside it.
I’m riding the ’Stang today as a sort of scouting trip. I want to try out the bus on an expedition to the land of Olympians—where I’ve never been—before committing to taking the Bustang’s mountain route during spring break. As a tourist on a simple daytrip, however, I don’t represent the Bustang’s target consumer; commuters to and from Denver are the norm. But with routes to Fort Collins (North Line), Colorado Springs (South Line), and Glenwood Springs (West Line), as well as storage for luggage, bikes, and skis, the Bustang provides adventurers with a chance to explore the Centennial State on a budget (one-way tickets range from $5 to $28). Plenty are taking advantage. Since launching in July 2015, the Bustang’s ridership has increased from around 103,000 annual passengers to more than 156,000, with the greatest bump (77 percent) on the West Line to Glenwood Springs.
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As scheduled, the Bustang takes an hour and 50 minutes to get to the Springs’ downtown terminal. Upon arrival, I walk about two miles to Old Colorado City, where myriad gift shops line Colorado Avenue. About 160 years ago, hopeful prospectors crowded the street, collecting supplies during the Pikes Peak gold rush. Today’s treasure: a second coffee and an almond croissant from La Baguette.
Fueled by sugar and caffeine, I catch a Lyft ride to the Garden of the Gods visitor center and embark on a 2.5-mile hike among the towering red rocks via the Perkins Central Garden and Scotsman trails. It takes my Lyft driver, Rajendra from Nepal, less than five minutes to collect me post-hike for a ride downtown to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum on South Tejon Street. Aside from the 60,000 artifacts in its collection and exhibits dedicated to the area’s history, the museum’s real highlight is the 115-year-old granite building itself, which served as the El Paso County Courthouse until 1973.
Having filled up on history, I focus on more present matters: namely, lunch. I choose the Skirted Heifer, a burger joint known for its creative condiments (try the Bloody Mary sauce) and for being Guy Fieri–approved on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Belly full, I return to the terminal for my 3:10 departure to Denver. Round-trip—Lyfts included—I’ve spent $45.
As I ease into my seat aboard the northbound Bustang, I realize that the real merit of completing a daytrip by public transit is that it allows you to relax—or, as is the case for those of us chained to the 24-hour work cycle, remain productive. En route to Denver, I respond to emails and even write parts of this essay. When we arrive at Union Station—20 minutes behind schedule, thanks to traffic—my neighbor across the aisle is asleep. I consider nudging him on my way out, but don’t. Who am I to tell him that our adventure aboard the fattest, slowest vehicle on the road is over?
Popular Bustang Routes
- North Line
- Denver Union Station → Fort Collins Downtown Transit Center, $10
- South Line
- Denver Union Station → Colorado Springs Downtown Transit Terminal, $12
- West Line
- Denver Union Station → West Glenwood Park & Ride, $28