Beginning Saturday, May 26, two 14-passenger vans from Adventures Out West will begin to ferry visitors from the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site through Garden of the Gods.
A few days later, a city-run shuttle service will start taking visitors up the Pikes Peak Highway to the summit of the mountain.
The services might be the start of a regional shuttle service, a suggestion that grew out of a transportation study of Garden of the Gods.
Although the idea of a shuttle service in North Cheyenne Cañon has been floated, the city has no plans for a shuttle service there at this time.
But the city has signed a contract with Adventures Out West to run the shuttles in Garden of the Gods approximately every 15 minutes from 9 a.m.-4 p.m., as part of a pilot project.
“It’s a different type of business for us,” Adventures Out West President Greg Wellens said.
The new service will be free, and drivers will not offer information and entertainment, as they do on Adventures Out West’s guided Jeep, Segway and trolley tours of the park. The company also operates tours to the summit of Pikes Peak, balloon rides and a zipline course at its Manitou Springs depot.
The vans will run a continuous loop from Rock Ledge Ranch with stops along the way at the Visitor and Nature Center and at a turnaround at Gateway Road and Juniper Way Loop.
The service will run Saturday, Sunday and Memorial Day.
“Then we’re going to take a few days off and start up again the following weekend, daily for the rest of the summer,” Wellens said.
To accommodate parking, the city is constructing a temporary lot at Rock Ledge Ranch for 400 cars.
“Launching the shuttle system this summer is part of our incremental approach to apply small-scale pilot programs to gauge impact and measure feedback on utilization patterns,” said Kim King, Colorado Springs Parks and Recreation manager. “We know we won’t have all the answers right away, but because we want to increase alternative ways to experience the garden, it’s critically important to test programs like this shuttle.”
Shuttle users will be encouraged to participate in a text-based survey to share their feedback on the service, which is funded by the Garden of the Gods Foundation and the parks department.
The pilot shuttle system was one of the recommendations of a yearlong study by Volpe National Transportation Systems Center to evaluate transportation and propose ways to alleviate congestion, enhance access and reduce emissions in the park.
The study also recommended increased parking at Rock Ledge Ranch, pilot opportunities for car-free days, an ADA-accessible trail on the north side of Gateway Road and a strong marketing campaign to promote alternatives to driving private vehicles through the park.
The study suggested that the city take a look at other visitor destinations for shuttle service.
That’s exactly what the city has done on the Pikes Peak Highway, which will begin shuttle service May 31 from the 7-mile parking area, known as the Hill Climb pit area, and the 16-mile lot at Devil’s Playground, to the peak summit.
Visitors will drive through the toll plaza at the base of the highway and pay the usual admission fees ($15 per adult, $5 per child 6 to 15 years old, or $50 per car up to five passengers). Then they will drive to one of the two parking areas to catch the shuttles. There will be no additional charge for the shuttle service.
“We anticipate a little more crowding at the gate, and we’re ramping up the number of Pikes Peak Rangers who will be able to take the entrance fee,” said Jack Glavan, manager, Pikes Peak-America’s Mountain.
The city is providing the shuttle service to accommodate parking limitations and ease highway congestion associated with construction of the Pikes Peak Summit Complex and an anticipated record number of visitors in the wake of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway closure.
“Last year, we had about 500,000 visitors through the gate,” Glavan said. “This year, we’re anticipating picking up about 150,000 visitors from the cog.”
The shuttle vehicles, 15-passenger vans that will be rented from Enterprise Rent-A-Car, will run approximately every five to 10 minutes beginning about 8 a.m., Glavan said. The last shuttle will depart from the 7-mile lot at about 5 p.m. so people can spend time at the summit.
There will be no stops along the way. Bicycles and pets, except for service animals, are not permitted on the shuttles.
Most visitors will take the shuttles, but some vehicles will be allowed to go to the summit, where there will be limited parking, Glavan said. They include vehicles carrying disabled passengers or small children in car seats, motorcycles in groups of less than 10 and tours that have been preapproved before arriving at the Pikes Peak Highway.
Glavan estimates that the shuttle service will cost about $2 million for the summer.
“We’ll pick up the cost through the operating budget for Pikes Peak-America’s Mountain,” Glavan said. “We are an enterprise service, so no taxpayer dollars are being spent.”
The current Summit House will remain open throughout the summer. Construction on the new Summit Complex is scheduled to begin in June and to be completed in late 2020.
Volpe also conducted a transportation study for the Pikes Peak Highway. Although the Pikes Peak shuttle service is not a pilot project like the Garden of the Gods shuttle, “we’ll be watching the result to see if we want to run voluntary shuttles after the construction is finished,” Glavan said. “We’ll be watching each other to see how each of them will work.”
Private shuttle operations on the highway should not be affected, Glavan said. About 10 such operations, including Gray Line Tours and Adventures Out West, have been approved.
“We’ll see how it plays out, but I think people will still want to ride with Gray Line,” said President Chuck Murphy Jr. Gray Line began operating two tours to the summit per day on April 15.
“It’s a different deal,” Murphy said. “Our charge is $65 for adults, which includes the toll charge. We make five to six stops, including 40 minutes on top.”
Murphy said he is supportive of the city’s shuttle service.
“I think the highway and the city are doing the best they can with the train being down and the Summit House being built,” he said. “We wish them well, and we wish us well.”
Adventures Out West, which has rebranded its zipline parking lot as the “Manitou and Pikes Peak Jeep Depot,” runs Pikes Peak tours twice a day, at 7:55 a.m. and 8:25 a.m. and other times by reservation.
Wellens of Adventures Out West said he does not view the shuttle service as competition. His $79 Jeep tours run for 3½ hours, with 30 minutes at the summit, and offer amenities including wool lap blankets, water and snacks.
More elaborate, 4- to 5-hour tours depart from the depot at 1335 Manitou Ave. at 8:25 a.m. and include a Garden of the Gods tour if time permits.
Wellens said he is working with Challenge Unlimited – Pikes Peak by Bike to offer Jeep and bike combinations.
Pikes Peak by Bike also runs 15-passenger vans to the summit, where passengers will spend a little time before they reboard the vehicles.
The cyclists will be transported to Sheep’s Corner, 18 miles up the highway, where they will begin their ride down the mountain.
“There’s going to be way less traffic for us to deal with from the top down,” Campbell said.
Tini Campbell, owner of Pikes Peak by Bike, said she thinks that both the tour companies and the city shuttle service will benefit because of the cog closure.
“The train took 1,500 people a day,” Campbell said. “People are going to be looking for a way up.”
Glavan said he hopes “people understand that this is a learning process for everybody. We hope if they’re patient, everybody will have a good experience on the mountain.”