Hauling around a bicycle on a bus in the Roaring Fork Valley will become much easier if an experiment proves successful this summer.
The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority will unveil special service Sunday, June 8, on what it is calling its "Bike Express."
RFTA mechanics retrofitted the interior of a bus by removing most of the seats and installing 12 bike racks. The bus will load and unload at specially designated bus stops " but not at every stop. Bike Express service will begin in Glenwood Springs in the morning and end up back there in the evening, but most of its service will focus between El Jebel and Aspen, RFTA communications and marketing director Sylvia Cranmer said Thursday.
If the service proves popular, RFTA might add a second bike bus. But for now, the agency just wants to get the service launched and work out the kinks before considering expansion.
"It's very experimental right now. We want to see how this goes first," Cranmer said.
Riders will pay their regular fare plus $2 for their bike regardless of the distance traveled.
RFTA buses typically are equipped to handle four bikes on outside racks. The Bike Express bus will have the four outside racks and 12 interior racks, making it capable of hauling 16 bikes.
Bike accommodation has long been an issue of contention between bus drivers and cyclists. The racks are used on a first-come, first-served basis, so some riders get annoyed when the space is taken and they must wait for the next bus.
In addition, cyclists cannot load and unload at every stop. That can lead to friction when passengers are unaware of the right sites. Loading and unloading bikes can be a problem for bus drivers because passengers often don't know the proper way of securing a bike to the rack. Drivers can get thrown off their schedules by taking the time to help.
Nevertheless, the agency recognizes a growing demand to accommodate cyclists. RFTA finished its segment of the Rio Grande Trail last month. The work allows a cyclist to make a connection between Aspen and Glenwood Springs, although some of the upper valley path is unpaved.
Word of the Bike Express was welcomed Thursday by Len Zanni, a co-founder of the Roaring Fork Mountain Biking Association and a member of the Aspen Cycling Club board of directors.
"Hats off to RFTA. It's a great new service to the valley that will hopefully encourage people to keep biking in mind," Zanni said.
Summer days in the Roaring Fork Valley often start clear then yield to rain showers. Accommodating more bikes might encourage more people to ride, knowing there is an alternative if they get caught in weather, Zanni said.
RFTA assistant planner Jason White promoted the idea of a bike bus, and maintenance director Kenny Osier's staff made it happen, Cranmer said. Osier told the RFTA board of directors at a recent meeting that he sees the days coming when people from various locations in the valley ride bikes down to Glenwood Springs, soak in the hot springs pool, eat dinner, then want to catch a bus ride back upvalley.
The board enthusiastically embraced the idea of the bike bus and urged the staff to implement a service plan this summer.
"We've had a lot of interest from the general public on this as well as the board," Cranmer said.
RFTA board of directors member and avid cyclist John Wilkinson credited the staff with being visionary with the service at the board's last meeting.
The Bike Express doesn't take a bus out of commission. The seats will be reinstalled in that bus for winter service. RFTA only hauls bikes from spring through mid-November.
The initial schedule for the Bike Express will have it depart at 11:55 a.m. from the Glenwood Springs park and ride and heading to Aspen, stopping at bike stop bus stops only. At 1:45 p.m., the bus will head from Aspen to El Jebel and it will start the return trip from El Jebel to Aspen at 2:30 p.m.
At 3:45 p.m., the bus will travel from Aspen to El Jebel. At 4:30 p.m. it will return to Aspen. At 5:45 p.m., the Bike Express travels from Aspen to El Jebel, and it return to Aspen at 7:30 p.m.
It will conclude its day by traveling from Aspen to the Glenwood Springs park-and-ride at 8:45 p.m.
Cranmer said the schedule likely would be adjusted once more is known about demand. Right now "it's a crapshoot," she said.
Cranmer also stressed that people who want to use the new service must remember that the Bike Express will only serve the bus stops where RFTA regularly loads and unloads bikes. Those stops can be found at the agency's website, www.rfta.com.