Grand Canyon National Park visitors began testing a free shuttle service on Monday that’s designed to ease traffic in one of the busiest spots along the South Rim.


The National Park Service started the shuttle between the nearby community of Tusayan and the park’s main information plaza. It will run every 20 minutes from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m.


Parking is a perennial problem at the Grand Canyon. During the busy summer season, about 6,000 cars enter the National Park and compete for less than 2,000 spaces.


“We don’t have adequate parking,” park spokeswoman Maureen Oltrogge said. “During the high visitor season, they park along the roadway, on both sides of the road, and then cross a busy roadway” to get to the rim.


A light rail was proposed for the park eight years ago, but authorities eventually settled on a shuttle service.

“This is a great opportunity for our visitors to enter and travel throughout the park without the hassle of their vehicle,” park superintendent Steve Martin said in a statement.

People using the new shuttle to enter the park will stop near the visitor centre and bookstore. They’ll be near a system of trails and they can connect onto another bus system that travels throughout the park, Martin said.

The National Park Service said several businesses in Tusayan have offered to provide parking for shuttle riders. Visitors using the service will still need to pay park entry fees, however.

The shuttle service will be available through Sept. 1.

Depending on the shuttle’s success, the park service says it may offer the shuttle program during the summer of 2009.

“If there’s no major flaws in it, I believe we’ll probably have the support of the local community in Tusayan to continue another year,” Oltrogge said.