Making The Climb to Build Community

At 7:45 am, Tracey picks up his first passengers before driving The Climb up into the mountains. It’s an essential service for many rural residents, connecting Gold Hill Elementary School students to their friends and family members in Boulder, and giving residents of the tiny settlements along Sunshine Canyon and Four Mile Canyon Drive a reliable way to access jobs, healthcare appointments and grocery shopping in the city. Riders can also bring a bike to make first- and last-mile connections between the bus stop and their destination. For Tracey, driving The Climb has brought him closer to what he really cares about.

“Anytime I can be up here in the mountains is a good day,” he says. “I’ve loved Colorado’s mountains since I was a kid.” 

Along with guiding the bus up and down steep and winding mountain roads throughout the year, Tracey enjoys getting to know the people on his route and looking out for them. On his way down Four Mile Canyon Drive, he stops to check in with a regular rider and his dog. 

“There are a lot of people up there who depend on the bus,” Tracey says. “If The Climb went away, it would be a problem.”

Providing this essential service is important to Tracey, whose path to becoming a driver for Via was something of a climb, too. In 2015, Tracey traveled from Colorado to Nebraska to visit family for Christmas, when his truck broke down. He started doing odd jobs to try and save money to repair his vehicle, but after two years and little progress, he decided instead to take a bus back to Boulder. He spent eleven months without a home, camping out and staying at the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, before learning about the opportunity to earn a commercial driver’s license (CDL) through Via. 

“I said, it’s worth a try!” Tracey recalled. Via provided Tracey with paid training while he earned his CDL, and after 3 weeks, he was driving. 

“As far as driving goes, it’s a job like any other,” he says. “What’s important is being there and making a choice to help people when you can. A free bus service is great for the people in the mountains. Anyone could drive the bus, but I drive because I care.”

Tracey’s life experience and years of service to Gold Hill and the surrounding mountain communities have given him important insights into what rural residents need, including increased transit service. Ideally, he says, The Climb would operate more than twice a day, allowing riders to get to Boulder early in the morning for work, provide midday rides for those who need to go grocery shopping or get to doctor’s appointments, and run later in the evening to help those who went down on the first bus get back home after work. He hopes The Climb’s hours of service can eventually be increased with more funding so more people can use it to get where they need to go.

“Public transportation is travel insurance for the community,” he says. “If you want your community to be strong and healthy, then you have to have all those little different insurances that communities require.”

At 10 am, Tracey pulls into the bus yard at Via and fills the tank with gas. Between the morning and afternoon runs, Tracey helps out with projects at Via. By 2 pm, he’s back in the bus, tidying up and rolling out again to greet people and enjoy the scenic drive up to Gold Hill.

~ This article was produced by Boulder Transportation Connections in partnership with Via Mobility Services

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