GRANITE PEAK PUBLICATIONS: Books accompanying travelers to the Park since 2002

Thinking about a public transportation option for Yellowstone

An online forum message posted earlier this month [July 2009] on the New West website led to an extended discussion of how public transportation around Yellowstone and the Tetons could be managed.

Michael Pearlman began it, citing the propane-powered buses that shuttle visitors in Zion National Park and writing in part, “The public could also adapt to using public transportation in the Greater Yellowstone area during peak season, if it was offered. I’m not talking about traditional diesel-spewing school buses. I envision both parks embracing alternative fuel sources and green technology. Perhaps plug-in electric vehicles could be used, or the Park Service could work with emerging technology companies to showcase clean options. . . .”

Pearlman proposes: “In Yellowstone, buses could leave from West Yellowstone and make a loop following the interior roads of the park, allowing people staying in West Yellowstone motels, Old Faithful Inn and Yellowstone Lake Lodge to get out of their cars and take a bus to Old Faithful and the Upper Falls. In fact, I’d go further and completely ban private vehicles from Dunraven Pass, allowing only the bus service. You’d likely see a reduction in wildlife harassment within Yellowstone as well.

“Bus service in both parks could be operated by an outside concessionaire, but ideally, the cost of the bus ride would be included in park entrance fee. Even if there’s a small charge to passengers, there should be a strong incentive to use the service that should include access to areas where private vehicles are not allowed.”

I countered with the following post (slightly altered here):

I’m basically in agreement with Michael Pearlman’s plan for reducing the cars in Yellowstone and the Tetons, but something more is needed to create a plan that is both more effective and more palatable to tourists.
First, cars should not be banned (as some proposals suggest), since many people, especially locals, need to pass through or cannot easily use public transportation because of disabilities or because they are traveling with small children.
Second, what is needed is a really efficient shuttle service between Old Faithful and Norris Junction—or to cover the one hundred miles all the way north to Mammoth Hot Springs. This should be free or very inexpensive, perhaps financed with incentives to those who use it, such as asking families entering the park to pay ten dollars more for their park-entrance fee, for which they would receive a voucher good for shuttle travel. The schedule should provide a shuttle every twenty minutes in each direction, allowing people to get on and off at the thermal attractions all along the way.
As someone else pointed out, leaving cars in gateway communities would pose a burden to those towns, but some of that may be necessary, perhaps in paid parking lots or garages, part of whose profits could go toward support of the shuttle system. Other cars could be left in the existing in-park parking lots for people staying inside the park.

One knowledgeable person asked how many buses (or shuttles) it would take to run such a system. In doing a rough calculation, in which shuttles run every 20 minutes from 9:00 to 6:00 and take 3 hours for each run, I came up with about 20 vehicles (and perhaps twice as many drivers) needed to provide the service on the west side of the park.

Here’s the good news, according to Tim Young, who supplied this: “The future is closer than you think – an innovative Regional Transit option is underway, and it won’t cut into those that still choose (or must) drive.
“A Regional Transportation Co-Op has received $535,000 in funding from the Idaho Transportation Dept. via Stimulus ARRA funds. Led by the Yellowstone Business Council, with partners around the Greater Yellowstone, leaders will be gathering in West Yellowstone this week to map out the next steps.
“Look at the YBP website for more details – and get on board!”

I hope the park service, which has been tossing this subject around for years, will come up with a plan suited to the special needs of this very large area. It should eventually include visitors to the Tetons and should be appropriate to twenty-first century standards of green efficiency.

I’m about to leave for my favorite park, where, among many other things I”ll be doing, I’ll be celebrating the fact that this is the seventieth summer since I first lived in Yellowstone by spending July 25 and 26 (11:00 to 6:00) in the lobby of Old Faithful Inn, where I’ll be signing copies of Yellowstone Treasures for anyone who happens by.

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