ISAIAH BRANCH-BOYLE/Durango Herald
The Buzz Bus operated by the city of Durango is more than a lift home on Friday and Saturday nights for people who have been out on the town.
It’s also a safety net for late-shift employees who end their day after the last trolley has departed.
Kelly Toliver, who has driven the minibus for half of the 15 years the service has been offered, transports tourists and residents who take the Buzz Bus on a regular or casual basis.
Among Toliver’s passengers also are employees who get off work late and face a long walk or bicycle ride home because they don’t have a car. She also helps disoriented tourists who don’t know the trolley schedule.
Toliver is on call starting about 9 p.m. People who dial the city’s transportation office number after hours get Toliver’s cell. When not on a specific run, she cruises Main Avenue waiting to be hailed.
A ride costs $5 for whatever distance. Some riders will take the 24-seat bus two or three times a night, each time paying the quota.
Toliver said ridership has increased slowly, but it stagnated in recent years as the sour economy keeps more people at home. About 25 people a night ride the bus.
Amber Blake, the city’s administrator of multi-modal transportation, said fares cover the cost of the program.
Transactions are fast – cash, credit card or a 5- or 10-punch card – she said. The punch card can be used by anyone.
“It’s an alternative to driving while intoxicated,” Blake said. “Our goal is to keep people safe, so riding the Buzz Bus protects riders and maybe others they could meet on the road.”
Blake has reason to urge caution. A Colorado Department of Transportation study found that the 108 drunken-driving arrests Durango police made in 2011 was the second highest among 35 rural law-enforcement agencies in the state.
There’s seems to be no habitué of Durango’s downtown restaurant row who doesn’t know Toliver, a soft-spoken Durango native whose day job is special-needs coordinator for the Bayfield School District.
Frequent calls of “Hi, Kelly” greet Toliver as she maneuvers the bus among vehicles and jaywalkers. When she stops, acquaintances give her a quick hug or kiss on the cheek.
“I’d say 90 percent of my passengers are regulars,” Toliver said. “Eighty percent are drinkers.”
Three or four limousine or taxi companies serve Durango, but Toliver doesn’t know if they siphon away possible Buzz Bus riders. On busy nights, she said, they would simply take up the slack by transporting people she couldn’t serve anyway.
New Year’s Eve is her busiest night, Toliver said. She drives one bus and coordinates the service of two other drivers who serve about 200 celebrants.
Bob Brem, a former Durango resident, and Denell Smith, who were vacationing from Scottsdale, Ariz., took the bus from downtown to their motel on north Main Avenue on a recent evening.
It’s hard to measure the value of the service by the number of riders, Brem said.
“I’ve had a couple of DUIs in no-tolerance Arizona that cost me $20,000, so $10 for the bus ride is well worth it,” Brem said. “I was dumb a couple of times, but not anymore.”
Riders may call Toliver several times during a shift.
Take Flora Rocha, who was ready to kick back one recent Friday after a week as a convenience store clerk.
Toliver picked up Rocha at home about 9 p.m. and dropped her at a downtown watering hole. Rocha called at 10:30 p.m. for a ride to a liquor store to buy a bottle to take to a private party. At midnight, Toliver got a call to take Rocha home.
Justin McKelvey, a cook for 25 years, lives on County Road 203 and usually rides his bike to the Iron Horse Inn to catch the trolley to his job downtown.
But on Friday and Saturday when he has late shifts, he hoists his bicycle onto the rack of Toliver’s bus. She drives him to the junction of U.S. Highway 550 and County Road 203 from where he pedals home.
Chris Calvert, a senior majoring in psychology at Fort Lewis College, was picked up at the roundabout on Goeglein Gulch Road. He was going downtown to shoot pool with a friend,
“I’ll call again when I’m ready to go home,” he said.
Returning from dropping a passenger recently, Toliver saw about 10 people at the transit shelter at Main Avenue and College Drive. They didn’t know the trolley they expected no longer stopped there. No one had changed the posted schedule.
She gave the group, which included children, a free ride to Main and Ninth Street to catch the last trolley.
Calls may result in dry runs – such as the night Toliver made three trips to J. Bo Pizza & Rib Co. only to find the callers not quite ready to leave.
Toliver will not pick up passengers she has found to be troublemakers. But certain incidents are beyond her control.
One early Saturday morning, Toliver was on 25th Street when a passenger in a vehicle going the opposite way threw a full can of beer at the Buzz Bus.
As chance would have it, Toliver’s side window was open and the can hit her in the head. Toliver, who wasn’t injured, is sure it wasn’t personal, but just an unthinking reveler who misjudged the possible consequence of the action.
Toliver has become a confidante to many regular passengers. She converses easily, but she maintains a reserve that doesn’t allow friendships to go beyond the moment.
“I enjoy the contact with people, and I think I’d drive even if they didn’t pay me,” Toliver said. “But I never give out my personal cell number.”