City mulls offer of electric bus for Music Fest route |

City mulls offer of electric bus for Music Fest route

John Colson

The city may enter into a public-private partnership to run an electric bus through Aspen’s historic West End neighborhood during the summer Aspen Music Festival.

But before that happens, the City Council needs a little more information than that provided by former council member Jake Vickery, proponent of the deal.

Vickery, a local architect who also is the owner of a company known as Rocky Mountain Electric Vehicles, hopes to buy the bus in question from its Texas owners and lease it to the city for $18,000, at a rate of $2,250 per month for eight months. The lease would be a pilot project to acquaint local leaders and citizens with the operation of electric vehicles.

Vickery appeared before the council at Monday’s informal brown-bag lunch to suggest that the city enter into what he called “a public-private partnership of some kind,” in which he would lease the city a 1995 Electricar, a 15-passenger bus powered by 40 acid-lead batteries arrayed on four separate “trays.”

The bus, built by the now-defunct U.S. Electricar, Inc., has never been put into route service, Vickery said. He said the bus has been in the hands of an electronics firm for several years, after being seized as partial payment of U.S. Electricar’s debts when the company went bankrupt nearly five years ago.

As discussed at the meeting, the bus might meet the needs of the city and the Aspen Music Festival and School, which have been squabbling with West End residents for years over shuttle bus service through their neighborhood to the Music Tent.

West End residents have complained about the noise and smell of diesel buses coming through the West End. But local government officials have said that buses are the only solution to what had become an even worse problem – parking congestion when music festival patrons drive to the West End for concerts.

Ken Osier of the Roaring Fork Transit Agency, which operates the Music Tent shuttle and others around town, said the electric bus would not be much use on most city routes because of its limited range. Vickery said the bus will run for 30 or 40 miles per charge.

But Osier agreed the electric bus might work on the Music Tent route, adding, “This might be a relatively low-cost way to … begin to experiment with the technology.”

Vickery maintained that the West End route would be “a great place to start” with the shuttle, which he said is silent and nonpolluting.

Vickery said the bus’s range can be “unlimited” if the city buys a quick-charging device and sets the schedule to allow for a 15-minute “opportunity quick charging” every time it loops through town.

Or, he said, the city can spend approximately $6,000 to build four additional battery trays and change the batteries every couple of hours, putting a recharged set in to run the bus while the old batteries are recharging.

Vickery said this kind of bus costs $125,000 new, and that one of a similar vintage has sold recently for $80,000, but added, “I’m not paying anywhere near that.” He declined to disclose the price he is paying.

He said that he is hoping to sign the deal with the city by early February, and that he needs the city to pay its lease fee up front to “allow me to close the deal.”

Then, he said, he can be “pretty flexible” as to the lease terms with the city. He said if the city wants to use the bus in both the winter and summer seasons, the lease could be for eight months straight. Or if the need was only for summer use, the lease could be split between two four-month terms.

The fact that the bus has no interior heating system convinced officials that it could only be used in summer weather.

The council members generally agreed, though, that Vickery’s idea has merit, although Mayor Rachel Richards suggested no decision be made until the council gets a report on the West End transit issue next month, and takes a detailed look at Vickery’s proposal to gauge its costs and benefits.

And, she said, the city must make sure it is obeying its own rules on putting large-scale capital purchases out to competitive bidding by several companies.

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