Decision looms on free buses to Snowmass |

Decision looms on free buses to Snowmass

Charles Agar
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Local elected officials will decide this week about running free buses between Aspen and Snowmass Village.

The Elected Officials Transportation Committee will meet at 3 p.m. Thursday at Aspen City Hall (changed from the Rio Grande conference room) to vote on free buses, as well as an additional $480,000 in funding for the already-approved $8.5 million bus lanes from Buttermilk to the roundabout.

The committee, or EOTC, is made up of Aspen, Pitkin County and Snowmass Village elected officials. It disperses about $1.5 million each year from a half-cent transit tax.

At a work session Tuesday, Pitkin County commissioners suggested the EOTC approve bus funding to the tune of $117,000 for a free bus “experiment” between Aspen and Snowmass Village in the summer and fall.

The funding request includes a $10,000 consulting fee to study the data from the experiment.

Commissioners suggested that an experimental program would provide some data to determine how much a free bus program might cost and whether the free service encourages additional riders ” thus fewer drivers on the road ” or just subsidizes the same group of paying customers.

Commissioner Jack Hatfield, however, is opposed to the free buses.

“I can’t support this,” Hatfield said, calling the plan “outrageous.”

Town of Snowmass Village officials have been outspoken in advocating free buses, but Hatfield said that that is because the town made no provisions for the impacts the new Base Village development will have on local traffic and transportation.

And while Hatfield said he believes in encouraging transit riders by offering free buses, he questioned whether it’s the job of the EOTC to make up for the gap.

County commissioners were cautious about using EOTC funds from the half-cent transit tax, money that could be important to a larger project, such as fixing the traffic problem at the Entrance to Aspen.

But with more than a $5 million surplus in EOTC coffers, commissioners were confident in approving a short experiment of free buses and, in the end, directed county staff to draft a motion to support the experiment.

The board also recommended changing the order of the agenda for Thursday’s EOTC meeting.

The vote for free buses to Snowmass is followed by a budget request for $480,000 to match a bid to build the designated Highway 82 bus lanes to Buttermilk on the outskirts of Aspen. County commissioners said they did not want to be held hostage by officials from the town of Snowmass Village, who could shoot down the additional funds for bus lanes if the free buses are rejected.

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