A monochromatic procession of vans will be nearly the only way for hundreds of thousands of people to reach the top of Pikes Peak starting May 31.
Thirty-one Ford vans, all white save one, now sit in a parking lot at the seventh mile marker of Pikes Peak Highway. They'll become the mandated shuttles on Pikes Peak-America's Mountain to alleviate stress on the highway and peak as construction begins on a new Summit House.
The shuttle will be mandated except for people with special needs or with small children in car seats, said Jack Glavan, manager of the enterprise.
Work on the $50 million Summit House is expected to begin in early June, Glavan said. The Colorado Springs City Council approved $13.5 million for the work last month, and the rest must be raised to finish the project. The work will eradicate half of the parking on the summit.
Although the shuttle will be needed for the next three years, it will only be in place for a few months in the mountain's busiest season, Glavan said.
Shuttle service will end Sept. 15, when diminished parking will be less of an issue. It will restart next May 31, he said.
Visitors won't pay extra for the service. As they enter the highway, they'll be charged the typical summer rates of $15 per person or $50 for a carload of five, and a few miles up the road they'll be told where to park.
"The shuttle is free," Glavan said. "The ride's on us."
The shuttle can be caught from three parking lots, at miles 7, 13 and 16 on the highway, he said.
The mandate might deter some visitors, but most likely will appreciate a chance to avoid driving the narrow switchbacks and instead enjoy the views, he said.
The vans will run in five- to 10-minute intervals, with no stops along the way, said city spokeswoman Vanessa Zink. So visitors should stop at low-level sites such as the Crystal Creek Reservoir before parking.
The van service, which includes drivers and parking lot attendants, will cost the enterprise about $2 million a year, Glavan said. About half of that was in the 2018 budget, and the rest is expected to come from customers who otherwise would have ridden the now-closed Pikes Peak Cog Railway.
An estimated 500,000 people usually drive up Pikes Peak Highway each year. Another 300,000 or so ascend using the Cog Railway, and half of them are expected to shift to the highway since the Cog closed.
Chicago visitors Aaron Mock, T.J. Weddington and Nikki Stopa stood outside the Crystal Reservoir Visitor Center on Tuesday morning, saying they wanted to see Pikes Peak.
They said they'd likely enjoy a shuttle ride to the top, but they'd still like to have the option of driving.
But a shuttle mandate won't deter them, the three said. The mountain is a must-see for folks who are used to skyscrapers.
"We'll never see anything like this at home," Stopa said.