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21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Zion National Park - UT

FAST FACTS ABOUT: ZIon National Park - UT
Types of TDM: Mode Choice
Keywords: national park, shuttle system, sustainable practices, parking restriction, road closure, alternative fuel vehicles
Area Demographics: Utah’s first national park, annual visitation of 2.61 million in 2002.
Program: Mandatory summer shuttle system since 2000 serving Zion Canyon and Springdale. Parking is restricted on Scenic Drive.
Results: 75% of Zion’s annual visitors use the system. In 2000, the shuttle system reportedly reduced nearly 1,200 vehicle trips per day and almost 11,000 vehicle miles traveled per day.
Cost of Program: $12 million for the initial capital investment and approximately $2.5 million in annual operating costs.
Contact: Ron Terry, Zion National Park


Protecting Assets
Zion National Park, located in southwest Utah, was designated as the state’s first national park in 1919. The Park, associated with deep canyons, dramatic cliffs and the Virgin River, is nearly 230 square miles although most of the visitation in focused on Zion Canyon. The Park is accessible from the south, west and east with the southern access through the town of Springdale. The usual approach to the southern access is from the west via State Route 9.

In the early 1990s an escalated number of visitors to the Zion Canyon made it increasingly difficult for visitors to find parking along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. In 1999, the annual visitation was 2.4 million. Increased visitation resulted in traffic congestion, inadequate parking, destruction of natural resources and a diminished visitor experience in the 6-mile upper portion of the Zion Canyon. On an average day during the peak season up to 5,000 cars including tour buses were using the Scenic Drive. Only 400 parking spots were available along the scenic roadway and as a consequence visitors typically double and triple parked destroying vegetation.

Bold Idea for Zion
Several alternatives were considered by Park officials prior to implementing the existing shuttle program. Alternatives considered but rejected included increasing parking in the Canyon, closing the scenic drive once the parking filled, and providing a voluntary shuttle system. The selected alternative included the implementation of a mandatory shuttle system using propane-powered vehicles during the peak tourist season.

The shuttle system began operation on May 26, 2000 allowing only the Park’s shuttle busses to operate north of the Zion Canyon Visitor Center during the peak summer season. An exception has been given to allow employees and guests of the Upper Lodge to continue using the Scenic Road although they are encouraged to use the shuttle system once their vehicle is parked. Parks Transportation, Inc. currently operates 30 NPS-owned propane-powered shuttle buses. Approximately 20 of these buses operate exclusively within the park with attached trailers capable of holding a total of around 66 passengers each. The shuttles have operated daily from the beginning of April though the end of October since 2000. Personal vehicle access is only permitted from November to late March on the Scenic Drive except for Upper Lodge employees and guests.

The shuttle system operates in two loops. One route makes six stops within the town of Springdale and the other has eight stops along the Scenic Drive. The Visitor Center is the central transfer point for both the Zion Canyon route and the Springdale Loop. Although parking is permitted at the Visitor Center, it is typically full by late morning during the peak season. Parking at the Visitor Center is equivalent to the 400 spaces that used to be available to visitors on the Scenic Road prior to implementation. Some of the Scenic Road parking has been converted to bus stops, but most of the spaces remain providing general parking during the off-peak season when the road is again accessible to all.

Visitors are encouraged to park in Springdale and use the shuttle system to access the Park free of charge. Springdale has provided approximately 1000 parking spaces for Park visitors. Shuttles operate within the Canyon at 6 minute headways during the middle of the day and approximately every 10 to 15 minutes in the morning and evening. Between 6:30 - 7:30 AM and 9:00 – 11PM frequency is reduced to every 30 minutes. Each full shuttle bus, which has a capacity of 66 people has the potential to replace 25 cars.

The shuttle system is an integral component and was the catalyst of a large-scale improvement project including the construction of a new Visitor Center and a bus maintenance facility, as well as a 3-mile pedestrian path, the Pa’rus Trail. Additional streetscape and safety improvements near shuttle stops were also included in the project. The Visitor Center showcases award-winning energy efficient design and sustainable development practices. Like a number of other National Parks, Zion is also testing alternative fuel vehicles to assess environmental impacts. Zion has two electric trams each holding up to 36 passengers.

The town of Springdale has directly benefited from their Partnership with the Park on the shuttle system. Today, over half of the system operates within Springdale thereby providing free transit service to the residents.

The total cost of the improvement project was $27.4 million, including $9.4 million for shuttle buses and trailers. The bus maintenance facility cost an additional $2.6 million. Annual operating costs of the shuttle system are estimated to be $2.5 million, or about one dollar per visitor. The street, landscaping, and sidewalk improvements surrounding the Springdale shuttle stops were financed by federal enhancement funds secured by the Utah Department of Transportation.

Benefits Started on Day One
The shuttle system has had a significant impact on traffic operations and the natural environment within the Canyon. The 2000 operational period lasted from the 26th of May until the 29th of October, during which more than 1.5 million passengers utilized the system. The effectiveness data below indicates the marked success of the system during its’ first year of operation.


Current estimates indicated that about 75 percent of the 2.5 million annual visitors ride the Zion Canyon shuttle. In the programs second year, 2002, annual shuttle boardings (2.35 million) almost equaled park visitation (2.61 million).

The shuttle system has been attributed with eliminating much of the vehicle congestion, parking conflicts, and aesthetic and noise related issues associated with vehicle use in the Park. Research is underway to quantify the effect that propane-powered shuttle buses have had on reducing noise levels. Prior to implementing the system, a noise impact assessment concluded that a considerable portion of the Canyon noise was a result of commercial tour bus traffic which is now prohibited north of the Visitor Center.

The town of Springdale has directly benefited from their Partnership with the Park on the shuttle system. Today, over half of the system operates within Springdale thereby providing free transit service to the residents. Likewise, the Park has also benefited from collaborating with Springdale. Without the partnership, the Park would have had to invest in additional roadway and parking infrastructure to support the shuttle system. The partnership has been attributed with reducing Park roadway construction needs by 40% and parking development by 54%. Aside from providing a transportation alternative for Park visitors and staff as well as Springdale residents, the shuttle system has indirectly promoted the local economy. Springdale experienced a 5 percent increase in retail sails during the first year of shuttle operation.


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