Aspen, RFTA looking to spend $7.5M on electric buses, charging stations

The city of Aspen and RFTA want to spend more than $7.5 million on eight electric buses and a plan to ask area elected officials to chip in at a public meeting today.

The two agencies have been discussing and researching the feasibility of starting an electric bus pilot program for the past 18 months, according to a memo from Dan Blankenship, Roaring Fork Transportation Authority CEO.

On Monday, members of the Aspen City Council approved contributing $1 million to the effort, Blankenship said. Today, Blankenship plans to ask the Elected Officials Transportation Committee, made up to members of the council, the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners and the Snowmass Village Town Council, to add another $500,000 to purchase the buses.

The total cost of buying the eight battery-powered buses and four charging stations and installing the charging stations is $7.6 million, according to Blankenship’s memo. That breaks down to $7.2 million for the buses — at $900,000 each — and $80,000 each for four charging stations, plus another $80,000 to install the charging stations.

By contrast, new diesel-powered buses cost $500,000 apiece, meaning eight would cost $4 million, according to the memo.

RFTA plans to apply to the state for a fiscal year 2018 grant worth $1.7 million in the next week or so. In addition, the agency plans to apply to the Federal Transit Administration for a $3.2 million grant through the Low or No Emission Grant Program by the end of this month, according to the memo.

“The current administration may reduce funding for or eliminate many FTA-related programs in the future,” Blankenship wrote. “As such, (fiscal year 2017) could be the last year for LoNo grants, and this could be RFTA’s best opportunity to apply for and capitalize upon this funding for this transition to (electric buses).”

RFTA would contribute $1.21 million toward the project provided the EOTC makes the $500,000 contribution. If the EOTC declines to chip in, RFTA would ask the federal government for $3.7 million in grant money instead of $3.2 million, the memo states.

RFTA has chosen a bus manufacturer called New Flyer to be its partner for the federal grant, the memo states.

If the electric bus program goes forward, four of the buses would be used within the city of Aspen, while the other four would be used on bus routes in the upper valley “until issues related to battery range and on-route charging can be addressed,” according to the memo.

“A (battery-powered electric bus program) … can be expanded to regional routes in the future as part of routine bus replacements as battery ranges improve,” Blankenship wrote.

Another mark in favor of transitioning RFTA’s fleet to electric buses is the estimated high cost of a light-rail system in this area, the memo states. A transportation consultant recently told elected officials that installing light rail between Brush Creek Road and downtown Aspen would cost between $428 million and $528 million, while a bus-based system would run between $159 million and $200 million.

The EOTC is scheduled to meet this afternoon in Snowmass Village.


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