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Basalt expects better results in selling affordable housing

John Colson

Aspen’s transportation officials have for years been looking into ways to make the city’s bus shuttles more “green,” and now a local resident says he has found a way to help.

Raymond Auger has been advocating the use of electric buses on city routes for several years. He told the City Council Monday that he has come up with a solution to one of the biggest problems facing electric buses – saving time on changing the heavy-duty batteries that move the vehicles.

Officials have long felt that electric buses, or perhaps a “hybrid” of gas and electric vehicles, might be more environmentally beneficial than the aging fleet of diesel buses operated by the Roaring Fork Transit Agency.

But officials have worried that the battery change could soak up an unacceptable amount of hours, thereby cutting into the time the buses spend on the roads and making scheduling difficult.

But Auger said he has come up with a way to solve that problem.

“This is 1920s’ materials-handling technology,” he said, explaining that he has discovered a way to change a battery in eight seconds.

He did not describe the method, but instead urged the council to consider a trial run of the buses with his battery-changing method. He said public funding may be available through the federal government to pay for a trial program.

He also suggested the trial be conducted through the city administration, perhaps the Environmental Health Department, rather than through RFTA.

“I believe [RFTA is] defensive of diesel,” he said. “They are the source of misinformation” concerning the viability of electric buses. He said that because RFTA has a fleet of aging diesel buses, it has a vested interest in resisting new, more energy-efficient technology.

The council jumped to RFTA’s defense, but encouraged Auger to work with Assistant City Manager Randy Ready to see if grant money can be found to help cover the cost of a trial run.

Mayor Rachel Richards also noted that the city already has one electric bus in action, leased to RFTA by former City Council member Jake Vickery.

And, she said, “RFTA would love to be able to switch to different technologies.” But, she added, RFTA is running on a $900,000 deficit this year, and coming up with money to buy, lease or experiment with electric buses may be difficult.

Council members generally supported the idea of experimenting with electric buses, mostly as a way to cut down on air pollution in the area.

“It’s getting to be a serious problem,” said council member Jim Markalunas, referring to diesel fumes from a variety of sources, including buses and personal pickup trucks.

Auger agreed to talk about his ideas with city staffers, who will look into the costs of a trial program and the possibility of federal or state financial assistance.


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