City to reinstate late-night buses
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Aspen will restore its late-night bus service during the off-seasons next year, but riders better use it, City Council members warned Tuesday.
Dwindling sales tax revenues, a primary source of funding for the free bus system, forced the city to cut back its off-season service significantly last spring.
The move left locals with little choice but to drive their cars or walk if they were going to be working or partying in town after midnight during the spring and fall.
Currently, the Cemetery Lane, Hunter Creek and Castle/Maroon buses all cease operation at midnight, while the East End Dial-A-Ride bus makes its final run at 7:45 p.m.
What began as a debate over at least extending the Dial-A-Ride service to midnight ended with four council members agreeing to plug nearly $100,000 into the 2004 budget to keep all four city routes running until 2:15 a.m., seven days a week, just as they do in the peak summer and winter seasons.
The expenditure also includes $15,000 to supply West End residents with taxi service during the off-seasons, since the Cross Town Shuttle that serves the neighborhood doesn’t run during the spring and fall.
The council also agreed to allocate $1,700 to run the Cross Town Shuttle for two extra hours in the evening during the 14-day Filmfest Academy Screenings, scheduled Dec. 21 to Jan. 3.
Mayor Helen Klanderud urged the council to restore the late-night service, though the transportation budget cannot support it for more than a couple of years, according to current projections.
“I’m not comfortable with the level of service we’re currently operating in the off-season,” she said.
Residents have complained about the service cutbacks, but if the city restores the late-night runs, Klanderud said she wants to see enough riders on the buses to make it worth the expenditure.
“It works both ways. If we reinstate this and they don’t use it, then it doesn’t make any sense to continue,” she said.
“I think we have to give it a try,” she added. “I think this indicates a commitment to mass transit.”
Since city routes are free, increased ridership won’t mean a boost in fare revenue, but running the late-night buses would be easier to justify if there are people on them, council members agreed.
Councilman Torre pondered how much longer the city will be able to offer free bus service.
“In-town fare buses may be next in line if this continues,” he said.
Or, the city may have to help pay for its bus system out of its general fund, if the sales tax dedicated to transit and paid parking revenues aren’t sufficient to keep it running at an adequate level, said Councilwoman Rachel Richards.
Only Councilman Tim Semrau opposed spending money to reinstate the service, noting the council agreed to cut it in the first place because ridership at those hours was light during the off-seasons.
“I think what’s going to happen is, we’re going to end up cutting it back again,” he said. “I don’t want to keep doing that.”
[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is email@example.com]
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