Traffic near Midway Geyser Basin

Yellowstone shuttles planned for 2021 debut

We will see two new Yellowstone shuttles serving the busiest parts of the park in 2021, as National Park Service officials announce two pilot projects for future evaluation.

Traffic has been a huge issue for National Park Service officials in recent years: as visitation goes up (even in 2020, despite COVID-19 concerns): discussions of a shuttle system of some sort predate the Cam Sholly era and go back to the Dan Wenk era, who discussed Yellowstone shuttles as a way to relieve traffic issues.

In 2017 Yellowstone officials released a report that indicated traffic was a huge issue for visitors and suggested a number of solutions: “Park managers will consider all strategies to try to address the overcrowding and traffic problems, including communication and traffic management systems, shuttle systems and other types of transportation alternatives, and reservations or timed-entry systems. These strategies could be implemented in key locations or park-wide, park officials stated.” Most of the traffic issues occur in relative small areas of Yellowstone (West Entrance to Madison Junction, Madison Junction to Old Faithful, Old Faithful to West Thumb, Madison Junction to Norris Junction, and Norris Junction to Canyon Village), as studies indicate these roadways and parking areas are over-capacity by about 29 percent during peak season (July) conditions.

And so we have the two pilot projects set for 2021.

The two exploratory visitor shuttle initiatives are in partnership with the Department of Transportation (DOT) Volpe National Transportation Systems Center.

The two intiatives:

  • Automated Shuttle Pilot: In consultation with the NPS Park Planning, Facilities and Lands Directorate and DOT, Yellowstone selected Canyon Village to test a low-speed, automated shuttle that would potentially serve the campground, visitor services, and adjoining visitor lodging area. The purpose of this pilot is to test emerging automated vehicle technology in the National Park context. Exact shuttle stops, route locations and distance will be determined jointly between the park and the selected vendor, Beep Inc. Shuttles will run from late May through August of 2021. Principal parties chose Canyon Village based on visitor safety and the potential for the NPS to learn from the pilot.
  • Transit Feasibility Study: In a separate study, Yellowstone is partnering with the NPS Intermountain Regional Alternative Transportation Program, the NPS Denver Service Center, and the DOT Volpe Center to analyze the opportunities, risks and costs of local shuttles possibly originating at Old Faithful and Canyon Village. Project partners will also look at potential system locations, routes, stops, fleet requirements, business models, ridership and costs. The study will include qualitative impacts to visitor experience, safety, park operations, resources and stakeholders. The park expects the study will conclude in 2022. The outcome of the study will inform whether piloting a local transit service in Yellowstone is feasible.

“Yellowstone and the NPS are proactively engaging with emerging transportation technologies by looking for ways to test, pilot and learn from these capabilities,” said Superintendent Cam Sholly via press release. “We will continue exploring possible ways to reduce congestion and to improve visitor experience and access in heavily travelled areas of the park.”

Photo of traffic near Midway Geyser Basin by Jim Peaco, courtesy National Park Service.

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