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Aspen bus service could see changes

Janet Urquhart/The Aspen TimesSkiers walk past a RFTA bus parked in front of the Rubey Park bus depot on Monday. Some Aspen bus routes could have fewer buses in operation in the future, according to city officials.
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ASPEN ” Depending how the economy performs in the future, in-town bus service could be reduced in certain neighborhoods.

The Aspen City Council on Monday heard various recommendations from city transportation officials, as well as from paid consultant Gordon Shaw, as to how to more efficiently operate eight in-town routes.

How those routes relate to funding will be contemplated on March 24 when the council is scheduled to review the city’s 2009 budget.

While officials don’t recommend any immediate reductions in transit service, they are asking council members to consider changes to four routes. They include replacing the existing Burlingame/Highway 82 route with a Burlingame/roundabout shuttle; raising the fare for the Dial-A-Ride service on the Mountain Valley route from $1 to $3; reducing summer Highlands service hours to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and reconfiguring the crosstown shuttle route to travel closer to Aspen Meadows.

City buses are free to ride, but the Dial-A-Ride route charges riders who want service to and from their door on Aspen’s east side, which often slows down service to those waiting at fixed stops along the route.

Transportation officials also have recommended that city buses continue to allow only service animals in response to a citizen’s request last year that dogs be allowed on in-town buses.

The council also discussed a short-range transit plan that was recommended by a citizen budget task force transportation subcommittee. The report includes 30 possible service reductions, as well as improvements that can be made in the future, dependent upon funding.

The city’s eight routes carry nearly 1.2 million people a year at a cost of about $4.7 million, which is paid to the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority on an annual contract basis. In 2008, ridership grew about 10 percent, according to officials.

The city’s transportation fund has been operating at a structural deficit since 2001 because transit operating costs have been outpacing growth of local funding mechanisms.

But city officials estimate the transportation fund is solvent for 2009 and 2010, and as a result, they recommend that the council adopt a cautious approach to service reductions.

One route that is likely to change is the Dial-A-Ride/Mountain Valley route ” either with increased fares, the elimination of door-to-door service, limiting the amount of requests for paid pick-ups or having two buses on that route during the winter.

“The complaints are constant that it’s never on time,” said Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland. “The worse thing about riding the bus is the uncertainty.”

Bus service to Highlands during the summer also is likely to change, possibly by eliminating it entirely. Officials say it’s under-utilized.

Service to Burlingame Ranch has been a disappointment for some. A critical mass of people riding the bus back and forth to Aspen from the affordable housing development across from Buttermilk has not yet been realized. That could be because buses run once an hour during the morning and afternoon peak times. The rest of the day, there is no bus going to and from Burlingame.

“I think everyone would say we are not meeting the goals out there,” Shaw said, who suggested a combined route with Burlingame residents transferring to another bus at the roundabout stop.

The council seemed to favor Ireland’s suggestion that a shuttle van be offered to Burlingame residents.

Ireland added that the public’s perception is that some buses drive around empty, which is a waste.

“People don’t want to see a 44-passenger bus with two people on it,” he said.

csack@aspentimes.com


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