Yellowstone Park needs a shuttle system!
Although I know that the National Park Service has in the past considered inaugurating shuttle service in Yellowstone to alleviate road congestion and cut down on carbon emissions, perhaps the following plan has not yet been broached. I suggest that only the west side of this vast park could be well served by such a system. Here is my plan for a way we could accomplish this.
I believe that providing a convenient shuttle service would greatly relieve summer congestion and would be used willingly by many visitors. Shuttle usage would be voluntary, and private vehicles and tour buses would continue to be allowed on the roads along with the shuttles. If the shuttle service were to be modeled after those at Yosemite, Bryce, and particularly Zion National Parks, it would be free. Having recently visited Zion and Bryce, I enquired how the system is paid for and was told that the equipment is owned by the National Park Service but operated by a concessionaire (at Bryce it is McDonald Transit Associates). Park entrance fees cover the expenses of running the shuttles.
Shuttle particulars proposed for Yellowstone
Shuttles could serve visitors along the roads between Mammoth in the north of the park and Old Faithful in the south central part. On this route are the majority of interesting hydrothermal features, as well as many other features of interest and hiking trailheads. All visitors who come in private cars, if they stay more than a day or two, usually want to visit much if not all of this region.
My plan would serve visitors who leave their vehicles overnight or for several nights at Mammoth, West Yellowstone, or Old Faithful, or in the campgrounds at Norris or Madison. New parking areas might be required in some of these areas and could charge a reasonable fee for their use, something on the order of five to ten dollars per day. This parking fee could help to cover the cost of the shuttle system. The shuttle itself would be free and useable by any visitors or staff. Thus, people could go into and out of the park on the same day or, if staying in the park, could take belongings with them on the shuttle for several days’ use while staying in park facilities.
Since no travelers who come from far away would want to carry all their belongings around while touring by shuttle, shuttle travel would have to be coordinated with the concessionaires at Mammoth and Old Faithful and with the management of private lodgings in West Yellowstone. In other words, visitors would leave most of their belongings at one of the three locations, in hotel/motel rooms if staying in the same place for several nights. Or if, for example, they wanted to stay one night in Mammoth or West Yellowstone and then stay a night or more at Old Faithful and return for their cars, baggage storage rooms could be provided at the motels and some space on the shuttles could be used for smaller baggage.
Ideally, simple lunch rooms would be built by the NPS and run by the park concessionaire at Norris and Madison, utilizing part of the already-disturbed land in the present large parking lots.
To make this plan work, I would propose that shuttles run at least every twenty minutes and for twelve hours per day between the end points, maybe from 9 am to 9 pm seven days a week. They should operate from mid June through mid September. A fleet of at least thirty electric, hybrid, or propane shuttles would be needed. There should be two round-trip routes: Mammoth campground to and from Madison Junction and West Yellowstone to and from Old Faithful Village, with correspondence at Madison. This system would require several dozen drivers. The shuttles would be large vans holding twelve to fifteen passengers. They would stop at every point along the roads that has something of general interest. Granted, this would mean a lot of stops, but the stops would mostly be very brief. Lesser-known features along the roads, such as the panoramic view at Swan Lake above Mammoth or the Chocolate Pots south of Norris Junction, should be included in the stops made by the shuttles.
Most people would want to spend an hour or two at the major geyser basins but could easily time their visits to have a minimal wait for the next van, if they were spaced twenty minutes apart. Covered shelters with some seating would be needed at shuttle stops.
Here is an example of potential pick-up/drop-off points between Mammoth and Norris:
Upper Terrace Drive
Bunsen Peak and other trailheads near Rustic Falls
Swan Lake Flat panorama
Sheepeater Cliffs side road
Indian Creek Campground
Apollinaris Spring and picnic area
Mount Holmes trailhead
Grizzly Lake trailhead
Norris Geyser Basin
A similar list of stopping points would be set up between other major places of interest or village areas with campgrounds or accommodations, where cars would be left. A total of 30 to 35 stops might be made between Mammoth and Old Faithful. In addition to the regular shuttles that make many stops, express shuttles would ferry staff and visitors to and from their vehicles at the end points three or four times a day.
This system might eliminate more than half of the cars that use the roads between Old Faithful and West Yellowstone and Mammoth, saving fuel and cutting congestion on the roads, and improving the air quality and the overall Yellowstone experience.