The pending suspension of Laramie’s Gem City Grand bus service has prompted the University of Wyoming to develop plans for a new, more limited bus route that would be open to both students and the public at no charge.

CommuterLink, consisting of two routes extending from downtown Laramie on the west to Wal-Mart on the east, is scheduled to begin operation at the start of the 2015-16 academic year. The new service would be in addition to existing UW bus routes that primarily access campus locations.

“We’re pleased to develop a service that will preserve a good portion of what students and the public have enjoyed with the Gem City Grand,” says Paul Kunkel, UW Transit Services manager. “There clearly is a need for a public transportation option in our community, and we believe CommuterLink will serve that need in a sustainable fashion.”

The current Gem City Grand route started in August 2011 as a result of a partnership involving the Albany County Transportation Authority, the Wyoming Department of Transportation, UW, the City of Laramie, Albany County, and Laramie County Community College.

According to the release from UW, ridership on the 14-stop route has grown steadily, from 57,326 in the 2012 fiscal year to 86,623 in the last year. An estimated 65 percent of those users are UW students.

However, the Gem City Grand has proven to be financially unsustainable for ACTA. Older equipment used for the route requires a high level of maintenance and repair; UW often has substituted its equipment; and an opportunity to purchase new buses using funding from the State Loan and Investment Board fell through because ACTA was unable to secure insurance for the buses. ACTA took initial steps earlier this year to suspend the Gem City Grand by fall.

While the Gem City Grand has operated with three buses from 7 a.m.-10 p.m. on weekdays and 1-6 p.m. Saturdays, along with 10 a.m.-6 p.m. service on designated holidays, CommuterLink would use two buses operating from 6:30 a.m.-8 p.m. weekdays, with no service on weekends or holidays.

Current plans call for CommuterLink east stops to be downtown Laramie at First and Grand, the Laramie Plains Civic Center and the Wyoming Union, a linking point with existing UW bus routes. Envisioned CommuterLink west stops are Wal-Mart, the corner of Beech and Glacier streets, LCCC, the Laramie Recreation Center, Ridley’s grocery store, the Spanish Walk Apartments and the Wyoming Union. Travel time from downtown to Wal-Mart would be 30 minutes, the same as that of the Gem City Grand.

CommuterLink buses would not operate when the university is closed, such as during the annual winter closure. Summer service in 2016 is not planned at this point, although consideration will be given to a pilot run of limited summer operations.