National Park ServiceU.S. Department of the Interior
Partnership header Making music at the Ashville festival, Blue Ridge Parkway
Shuttle Bus Transportation System

Description: Devils Postpile National Monument is surrounded by the Inyo National Forest within the valley of the Upper Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River in Madera County, California. In recent years, the park and surrounding area has attracted over 150,000 visitors annually. A ranger station with visitor services, a day-use area and a campground with 21 sites are located within the National Monument. In addition, there are a number of other attractions in the valley on National Forest land. These include six campgrounds (with a total of 186 sites), a resort with cabins, a restaurant and a pack station. Two small lakes and the Upper Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River provide excellent fishing opportunities. The Pacific Crest Trail, the John Muir Trail and a number of others run through the valley, offering extensive hiking for visitors of all levels. A narrow nine-mile Forest Service road (Reds Meadow Road) provides the only access into and out of the valley. The first two and a half miles of this road is one-lane with turnouts; once in the valley the road becomes two-lane.

Concerns over visitor safety, traffic congestion, significant resource damage, limited parking capacity and the quality of visitor experience to the valley compelled the Inyo National Forest to implement a mandatory shuttle bus system in 1979. Visitors who are camping, staying at the resort, bringing in small watercrafts for use in the valley, or can provide proof of physical handicap are permitted to drive their personal vehicles on the road. All other visitors entering the area between 7 am and 7:30 pm are required to ride into the valley on the shuttle bus.1 The route includes ten stops throughout the valley, one of which is at the Devils Postpile National Monument Ranger Station. The shuttles run during the day throughout the summer season and have been effective at limiting the number of vehicles on the road, alleviating the aforementioned problems.

The shuttle bus has been in operation for 26 years. Throughout this time period, the NPS staff at Devils Postpile National Monument has worked with Inyo National Forest and other Forest Service permittees including Mammoth Mountain Ski Area (MMSA) and Reds Meadow Pack Station to support the transit system. After safety concerns required a shutdown during the first phase of the shuttle contract, MMSA took over the operation and ran the shuttle for 18 years. Revenues generated through passenger fares were used to operate the system. Over the years, rising costs resulted in fares of $9 per person, which was more than many visitors and families could or would pay. MMSA estimated that if it continued operating the shuttle bus system, fares would need to be increased to $12 per person in order to cover operational costs and could eventually reach $15.

The Forest Service proposed Reds Meadow Valley as a Fee Demonstration Project beginning in 2002, and instituted a $5 per person access fee for all visitors (including visitors with exempt vehicle status) to the valley. Fee revenues are used to contract with a private shuttle bus operator. Due to a deficit incurred during the first year of operation, the per person fee was increased to $7 ($4 for children) for FY 2003. It remains at this level during the current year (FY 2004).

The new Fee Demonstration Project administered by the Forest Service has resulted in a number of changes that benefit visitors to the valley. The decreased fee is more affordable for families and people of low income. Charging an access fee to everyone accessing the valley is a more equitable solution, since all visitors benefit from the impacts of the mandatory shuttle system. Under the MMSA operation, the shuttle stopped running at 5:30 pm each day. Many visitors waited until 5:30 to drive into the valley, creating traffic jams and congestion in the National Monument's parking area. NPS staff time was required to manage the situation, taking them away from other visitor services. The Forest Service contract mandates that the bus operate until 7:30 pm, significantly reducing the number of cars driving into the valley in the early evening. In addition, the new schedule has decreased the need for NPS and FS law enforcement. The Mammoth Lakes Police Chief has expressed his appreciation for the decrease in callouts for support in the valley since the new schedule was implemented.

Policy changes at the national level for both the NPS and the FS created a challenging funding situation for FY 2004. The Inyo National Forest is now required to accept the Golden Eagle, Golden Age and Golden Access passes in lieu of the required access fee. In addition, the NPS has required that the National Parks Pass with hologram be accepted. The projected deficit due to loss in individual visitor access fee payments is $280,000 for FY 2004. However, both the NPS and the FS remain firmly committed to providing the mandatory shuttle bus service to visitors. In an attempt to mitigate the situation for the current year, the NPS and the FS have each agreed to commit 50% ($140,000) of the projected deficit from national pass program revenues allocated to the federal level. This partnership and funding strategy is currently being evaluated to develop long-term financial support for the mandatory shuttle bus program.

Devils Postpile National Monument and Inyo National Forest staff are participating in a regional transportation group with consultants to explore future management alternatives ranging from private sector operations, fully or partially subsidized permittee operation, fee programs and other possibilities. In addition, a Ford Foundation Proud Partner Transportation Scholar has been assigned to Devils Postpile National Monument for a six month period during FY 2004 to assist with this project. The deficit and loans incurred in 2002 must also be paid back within a reasonable amount of time. Identifying a feasible solution requires a strong commitment and cooperation among all constituents and partners who are impacted by the operation of the shuttle bus. To date, no feasible alternative to the shuttle system has been accepted.

Geographic area covered: Devils Postpile National Monument is an 800-acre monument located within the valley of the Upper Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River and surrounded by the Reds Meadow area in the Inyo National Forest. The monument and valley are located in California, near the town of Mammoth Lakes.

List of Partners and Relationships: Inyo National Forest, Forest Service permittee/concessionaire Reds Meadow Resort, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, Cruisers California (bus contractor FY's 2002-04) and Devils Postpile National Monument.

Accomplishments to date: The continued operation of the shuttle bus has been challenging throughout its 26 year history. These challenges are the result of increasing costs, complicated partnerships and changes in federal level policy. However, the partners involved have been successful in continuing to operate the service without major interruption since its first year of implementation. The continued commitment to the program has led to creative solutions to the problems that have surfaced each year.

In the course of the past four years (FY 2000-2003), Devils Postpile has had more than 155,000 visitors annually. During the months when the shuttle is required daily from 7 am to 7:30 pm, between 51 and 59 percent of all visitors to Devils Postpile arrive by bus. The shuttle service has reduced the number of vehicle trips into the area by approximately 14,000 per year.2 The mandatory shuttle system has thus served to protect the natural environment, mitigate potential safety hazards on the narrow entrance road and provide a higher quality of visitor experience over the past 26 years. According to annual visitor surveys conducted over the past three years, 97 percent of all visitors have had a positive experience during their time at Devils Postpile. Many visitors take the opportunity to comment on their survey that they feel that the shuttle is a valuable part of their experience.

Key success factors: The mandatory shuttle bus has continued to operate since 1979 due to a strong commitment on the part of all partners involved. Operations have been threatened many times, but a creative approach and dedication toward identifying new strategies have kept the service running. This would not have been accomplished without true cooperation and collaboration between the partners, specifically the National Park Service and the Forest Service.

Frustrations: The involved partners have faced a constant challenge to find sustainable funding for an alternative transportation system that can continue to be affordable to the general public. The recent decision to accept the National Park Pass and Golden Passes in lieu of access fee payments has placed additional stress on a financially tenuous operation. It has become clear that the partners will need to receive a generous subsidy on an annual basis in order to continue operating the system at the same level of service under the new national pass policy.

Most important lessons learned to date: The importance of the NPS and FS continued resolve to collaborate to find short-term funding solutions while exploring long-term options cannot be understated.

The initial fee demo access fee was priced too low at $5. A need to increase it for the second year was viewed negatively by the public and may have impacted the number of visitors to the area. Although the number of visitors to Devils Postpile declined in 2003, there was a similar nationwide trend among all National Park Service areas. It is difficult to determine the exact cause for the decline.

When the shuttle service was implemented, the partners thought that it would be possible to fund the system entirely from farebox revenue. We now know that very few public transit systems operate without a significant subsidy. This has been a very difficult mindset to overcome.

What would you do differently next time: The greater community of Mammoth Lakes should have been more fully informed about the tenuous nature of future funding. If the shuttle ceased to operate, other capacity control measures for entrance to the area would be required. Such measures could have a dramatic negative impact on the summer visitation and therefore the economic sustainability of the local tourist-based economy.

National Park Service technical experts and regional level staff should have been consulted earlier on in the process to help identify potential funding solutions.

Visitors to the area should be better educated about the range of benefits that the shuttle system provides both for their own enjoyment and to the natural environment. They should also be made aware of the difficulties of funding such a project.

Suggested resource materials(related to the case study):

For more information:

Name: Deanna Dulen
Affiliation: Superintendent, Devils Postpile National Monument
Phone/Fax: 760-934-8100

Name: Pennie Custer
Affiliation: Public Affairs Specialist, Inyo National Forest
Phone/Fax: 706-924-5516

Partnership category(ies) (check all that apply)

Fundraising __; Capital Improvements _X_; Facility Management __; Trails __; Design __; Program Delivery __; Visitor Services _X_; Tenant Organizations __; Concessioners __; Natural Resources Management/Restoration __; Cultural Resources __; Education/Interpretation __; Arts __; Information Services __; Transportation _X_; Mutual Aid __; Fire Management __; Planning _X_; Tourism __; Community Relations __;

Other ____________________________

Prepared by: Deanna Dulen Date posted: 7/15/04
Phone: 760-934-8100

1Visitors on bicycle or foot are not required to ride the bus.
2Estimated vehicle reduction calculated utilizing NPS average of 3.5 persons per vehicle.

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