Officials mull keeping Aspen/Snowmass bus free
Ryan Summerlin June 16, 2014
Upper-valley elected officials will make a decision today on how — and if — to continue funding the free bus service between Aspen and Snowmass Village.
In the past, public officials from the Aspen, Pitkin County and Snowmass Village governments, acting as the Elected Officials Transportation Committee, have debated whether to keep the service running year-round as well as how they should fund it. However, at a retreat in March, every official who commented on the issue supported maintaining the service and jointly funding its $550,000 cost, county Treasurer Tom Oken said.
Oken said he would like the committee, which manages collections of a half-cent sales and use tax approved by Pitkin County voters to support public transportation, to confirm that today. All three jurisdictions have equal power on the committee and must vote unanimously to pass decisions.
According to a memo submitted by Roaring Fork Transportation Authority CEO Dan Blankenship, ridership on the Aspen/Snowmass direct service was up 52.2 percent from January to April compared with the same period in 2013. In fact, there was “significant overcrowding” on buses going from Snowmass to Aspen in the evening all winter, he said.
“RFTA attempted to back this service up when demand was heavy, but backup vehicles weren’t always available,” Blankenship said in the memo. “Undoubtedly, a good snow year and better local economy contributed to the ridership increase. However, if this trend continues, RFTA and the (committee) may need to work together to address the overcrowding situation.”
Eighty-one percent of the revenue collected by the transit tax, which is expected to total $5.2 million in 2014, is directed to RFTA, according to committee documents. After that and other mandatory expenditures, the remaining revenue is split, with two-thirds set aside for a potential new entrance to Aspen and the remaining third budgeted as “discretionary expenses.”
The latter currently is being used for the Aspen/Snowmass bus route. However, since 2012, additional money also has been pulled from a savings account created for a transit center in Snowmass Village to run the bus route in the summer.
The public officials came to a consensus in March that they wanted to start budgeting the Aspen/Snowmass bus “above the line,” as in, with the other budgeted expenditures and not as a discretionary expense. That will decrease the amount of revenue left for a project to improve the so-called Entrance to Aspen, and the officials will also consider three different proposals for what to do with that money today.
Tough Mudder parking
The committee also will be asked to allow Tough Mudder participants to park in the Brush Creek intercept lot during the two-day event this fall.
Tough Mudder stages obstacle courses designed by British Special Forces throughout the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, according to a memo. It is coming to Snowmass Village on Sept. 6 and 7.
Tough Mudder is expecting 10,000 to 12,000 participants and spectators on-site the first day of the event, according to the proposal it submitted to the committee. It expects 2,000 to 3,000 individuals in Snowmass Village on the second day.
The company plans to charge participants to park in lots around Snowmass Village, pending approval. However, it is requesting to park 1,400 to 1,700 vehicles in the Brush Creek park-and-ride free of charge, which the Elected Officials Transportation Committee must approve.
Charging drivers to park closer to the course has encouraged carpooling in the past, Tough Mudder said in its proposal. It will hire a “professional parking company” to manage the operation, the memo said.
The Elected Officials Transportation Committee meets at 4 p.m. today in Aspen City Hall.