Cleaner, quieter RFTA buses will go into service around Aspen around Thanksgiving

In July, two RFTA bus drivers, Lamar Hawkins and Mark Salerno, rescued two different women in danger.
RFTA/Courtesy photo

The Roaring Fork Valley’s public bus system took another step this month toward getting a fleet of battery-powered, electric buses on the road for winter.

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority took delivery of two of eight of the electric buses it ordered this spring and is using them for road tests and training for drivers and mechanics. The other six buses will be delivered within a month by manufacturer New Flyer, according to Jamie Tatsuno, RFTA’s communications manager.

The buses, charging stations and related infrastructure cost $9.2 million.

“That breaks down to $8.2 million for the buses — at about $1 million per bus plus $28,000 each for extended warranties to cover the life of the batteries — and another $1 million for four depot charging stations, infrastructure and installation,” Tatsuno said.

Four charging stations were installed at RFTA’s Aspen maintenance facility.

About $4.2 million of the expense was covered by federal and state transportation grants. RFTA, Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County teamed to provide the other $5 million. Holy Cross Energy worked with RFTA to install sufficient bus-charging infrastructure, establish a cheaper utility rate for strategic time-of-day charging and is helping the bus agency assess renewable energy options.

Local elected officials funded the program to reduce noise and the bus system’s carbon footprint.

“Now we get an opportunity for our community to experience less noise pollution, lower emissions and mitigation for climate change,” Pitkin County Commissioner and RFTA board of directors member George Newman said in a statement.

RFTA currently runs 400 buses into and out of Aspen each day during peak periods, so the noise impacts can be substantial. The electric buses were seen as a way to provide some relief.

The Xcelsior CHARGE bus uses an electric motor powered by energy stored in rechargeable batteries. RFTA said the buses have zero emissions at the tail pipe, lower operating costs, an automated passenger information system and automated vehicle location system. Exterior graphics will tout the buses as having zero emissions.

The two buses that are being tested make it clear with an exterior wrap they aren’t in service yet but will be coming this winter. The goal is to have them in service by Thanksgiving. Passengers cannot board them during testing.

“To test the buses’ ability and range, drivers will start them on shorter, flatter routes around Aspen without passengers before moving to the longer, steeper roads,” said a statement from RFTA.

The buses also were also tested on area roads prior to the $9 million order. They were deemed capable of handling the valley’s elevation and road grades.

The new buses hold 36 passengers, which makes them mid-sized in RFTA’s overall fleet.

(Editor’s note: This story was updated to clarify Holy Cross Energy’s role in the project.)


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