Aspen bus system goes on steroids to answer X Games call
January 30, 2016
When you think of Winter X Games, you think of amazing athletes pulling off spectacular feats, hip musicians creating the vibe and swarms of young, awestruck fans soaking it all in.
You definitely don't think of buses. They are, however, the least appreciated but most vital part of the operation. It would be gridlock with private vehicles if not for the buses delivering thousands of spectators to Buttermilk and hauling them home.
"Everything we own is on the road during the X Games," said John Hocker, co-director of operations for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, the valley's public bus system.
RFTA goes on steroids to get the job done Friday through today. It sticks to its regular routes to deliver people to Buttermilk, but it adds a bunch of buses to get the job done.
For example, if a RFTA supervisor sees via camera that the upvalley bus stop at Willits is full with people heading from Element Hotel to Buttermilk, it can call an extra bus into service — in addition to the bus-rapid-transit buses rolling through as scheduled every 10 to 15 minutes at prime time.
RFTA will send a bus every three or four minutes from Rubey Park to Buttermilk to meet demand from downtown Aspen.
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Throughout Saturday, more than 200 unscheduled runs were made in addition to the hundreds of scheduled runs, said Lou Gregorich, RFTA operations manager. Buses are on standby to jump into service just about everywhere there is a need between Glenwood Springs and Aspen, he said.
Ridership doubled Saturday compared with a typical Saturday during the ski season. For the event, RFTA ridership typically surges by about 50,000 riders for Friday through today.
RFTA devotes supervisor Pedro Quintanilla as "ground control" for the event.
It's the busiest event of the year for RFTA. The Jazz Aspen Snowmass concerts on Labor Day Weekend in Snowmass Village are similarly busy but the ridership patterns are different, Hocker said. Music fans roll in at different times before the concert, demand dries up during the multiple hours of music, then there's a big crush when the music is over.
With X Games, people are constantly coming and going, so demand is high all day, Hocker said.
RFTA "hit the wall" with X Games service about five years ago and couldn't meet all the demand. Aspen Skiing Co. and ESPN have contracted for extra buses since then. Last year they leased 18 buses, drivers and additional supervisors from McDonald Transit Associates, a national company, and Ramblin Express of Colorado. McDonald Transit brings in buses used in Rocky Mountain National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park during summer months.
Ramblin Express focuses on service from Buttermilk to Snowmass Village. McDonald Transit runs between Buttermilk, the Intercept Lot and Aspen.
RFTA fills the driver shifts by asking for volunteers. It hasn't had any trouble finding takers.
"Some of our workforce chomps at the bit to pick up these shifts. Some of them just dread it," Hocker said. No one is forced to work extra shifts, he said.
After the concerts at the end of the day Saturday and today, it's "organized chaos," Hocker said. Buses will line up on Owl Creek Road and roll up three at a time to load and dash. Last year, it was 40 minutes from when the first bus loaded to when the last passenger got on. That may sound like a long wait, he said, but he is proud of the logistical undertaking.