Free Snowmass bus drives message home | AspenTimes.com

Free Snowmass bus drives message home

Last week the city of Aspen put the kibosh on the idea of free buses between Snowmass Village and Aspen, but we hope officials will keep exploring this bold plan. It’s in keeping with this city’s environmental commitment, and it holds the promise of pulling thousands of cars off Highway 82.

City Council members, led by Mayor Mick Ireland, were reluctant to sink hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars into a free bus route without having an exact idea of the costs and benefits. They asked staff members from the city and the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority for more information before they would support the plan.

This makes sense, especially for a government with a reputation for extravagant spending. We hope council members aren’t just sentencing this idea to death by committee.

At first glance, this biggest beneficiary of the free-bus proposal is likely Snowmass Village, and we do feel Snowmass Village should pay a share of the eventual cost. Estimates of the total cost have varied from $277,000 to more than $800,000.

But if the enticement of a free bus ride can get people out of their cars ” Snowmass tourists going to dinner in Aspen, Snowmass commuters going to work in Aspen, an Aspen businessman attending a meeting in Snowmass ” then everyone wins, including the city of Aspen.

Through its Canary Initiative, the city has made a major commitment to reducing its impact on the planet and the atmosphere; its free in-town bus routes are already a shining example of that commitment, and a joint agreement with Pitkin County and Snowmass Village to establish a free and seamless upper-valley bus system would take local transit to a new level. It would enhance the city’s environmental reputation, not to mention that of the “Aspen-Snowmass” brand.

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Imagine the buzz that such a service could create among skiers and other tourists, who could now enjoy dinner in Aspen before returning to their lodging in Snowmass on a free bus.

Thus far, the conversation about this service has revolved around the Elected Officials Transportation Committee, which administers the half-cent sales tax for transit. The half-penny is certainly one way to pay for this new service, but a cost-sharing arrangement ” something Commissioner Rachel Richards suggested at a recent Pitkin County board meeting ” involving the Town of Snowmass Village and the city of Aspen would really be the right way to launch this idea.