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Tusayan, Park Service iron out plans for annual shuttle route
Extended shuttle service a town priority; lack of bus drivers hampers progress

Grand Canyon National Park shuttle busses offer several routes throughout the park. (Photo/NPS)

Grand Canyon National Park shuttle busses offer several routes throughout the park. (Photo/NPS)

TUSAYAN, Ariz. — Tusayan town leaders and members of Grand Canyon National Park’s transportation division met May 2 to discuss annual shuttle service from the town to the park during the peak season.

This year, the shuttle will begin operations May 27 and conclude service Sept. 8. The buses are scheduled to run every 20 minutes with the first bus departing the IMAX at 8:25 a.m. The final shuttles depart at 9:30 p.m. from the Grand Canyon Visitor Center in the park and 9:45 p.m. from Big E’s Steakhouse in Tusayan.

The park operates the additional shuttle route – the purple route – to help with traffic congestion inside the park. Visitors can often find more accessible parking in Tusayan’s park and ride lot and utilize the free shuttle system to get around the park without a vehicle. It also helps local residents who may live or work within one community or the other.

All visitors who use the shuttle must present a park pass or a receipt indicating they’ve paid the entrance fee, which helps to pare down the line at the entrance station. Raukisha Talley, Grand Canyon recreation branch chief, said visitors have been making good use of the automated fee machines located at the Grand Canyon Plaza Hotel, the Imax, West Wind Air Service and Red Feather Lodge.

“The automated fee machines are heavily used,” she said. “They bring in a lot of revenue.”

However, Sharon Cann, general manager of the Grand Canyon division of Paul Revere Transportation, said a new issue has surfaced. She said third-party tour companies who offer all-inclusive access to the Grand Canyon – including park admission – have been leaving bus loads full of visitors in Tusayan.

“Everyone getting on a bus has to produce a park pass or receipt showing they paid,” Cann said. “But tour operators are dropping people in Tusayan without a pass and telling them they can ride the shuttle into the park.”

Cann said it’s likely that the tour bus operators simply don’t want to wait in line at the entrance gate. The visitors, however, are often confused about when and where the buses stop, and they have neither a physical pass nor a receipt.

“Some of them just flash this piece of paper from the tour company, but there’s no telling what that is,” Cann said.

Tusayan Mayor Clarinda Vail agreed that this wasn’t what the service was intended for, and suggested that the town work together with the park to try to identify tour companies that leave guests looking for a bus stop.

Extended service

In the past, Tusayan has provided funds for the park to extend service for additional four months – beginning service in March to cover the Spring Break rush and ending in October. Although the program was initially successful, a number of issues have prevented the program from continuing.

That’s something Vail would like to change, and said the council has made funding for the venture a priority each year because it’s so helpful for locals and business owners.

“We want to start talking about possibly extending the shuttle time for next year,” Vail told the group. “It’s a priority for us (the council) and something we hear from a lot of businesses.

Since the additional months don’t fall during the peak season of Memorial Day through Labor Day, Vail questioned whether the service could run less frequently when ridership was down. NPS transportation planner said the park would need to analyze shuttle usage from the town and determine if there is a way to scale the service to be available during certain time frames when ridership is higher.

Cann, however, is focused on a more immediate problem: she’s having trouble finding drivers for regularly scheduled park routes. Finding enough drivers for additional routes would be extremely difficult if things continue the way they have been going.

“It’s hard to find drivers already for the summer,” she said. “I lost two drivers just today.”

Part of that is because not just anyone with a commercial driver’s license can show up and drive a passenger bus. Cann said all drivers need to have a passenger endorsement, which is becoming increasingly difficult to find.

Even though the extended service won’t run this year, officials from Grand Canyon and Tusayan plan to reconvene in the future to try to work out a solution.

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