Aspen Shift mobility lab hits bumps in the road

Traffic at the S-curves on Highway 82 in Aspen of cars headed down valley at rush hour on Tuesday.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

A proposed three-month experiment aimed at slashing vehicle trips into Aspen by 800 per day sparked some testy comments at a three-hour work session Monday from a city councilman who claimed the $2.6 million endeavor could hurt local businesses and put off the community.

Councilman Adam Frish, who was often animated, vocal and pointed in his remarks toward the city staff members who made the proposal, accused them of alienating bike shops and cab and limo services by subsidizing transportation services that would compete directly with them.

“I think there’s a loss of understanding about how hard it is to run a business in Aspen with the labor shortage and everything else going on,” he said.

Frisch’s comments came after a group of the city’s transportation employees — as well as Assistant City Manager Barry Crook — gave a detailed presentation about the next iteration of Shift Aspen, formerly known as the Aspen Mobility Lab.

The council, including Frisch, ultimately agreed to move forward with elements of Shift Aspen for June, July and August of 2019.

The biggest point of contention for Frisch, and eventually some other council members, was the city’s proposal for “The Ride,” an on-demand cab service for residents on Cemetery Lane, Red Mountain, Castle Creek and Maroon Creek roads, and the east side of Aspen. By using a mobile-phone app, the passengers would call a ride into town for the price it would cost them to park.

High Mountain Taxi owner Todd Gardner argued that type of service would cripple his business, and he also contended the city’s request-for-proposal process for the service only included on-demand rides from the Brush Creek Intercept Lot and not in town.

“The city is taking food off of (his employees’) plate and out of their family’s mouth,” he said.

Gardner, who said he had been in previous email contact with Frisch about his issues, also said the city’s Downtowner service keeps expanding its service territory, even though the city “always presented to us that it wasn’t your goal to step on our toes.”

Whatever the case, Lynn Rumbaugh, the city’s transportation program manager, said there appeared to be a communication breakdown that led to Gardner’s frustration.

The city will proceed with the RFP process, but Crook and Shift project director Ashley Perl said it is possible that none of the potential suitors — the highest bid is $500,000, the figure factored into the projected $2.6 million cost of the experiment — will be chosen, which would open up another RFP process that High Mountain Taxi could enter.

Crook said time is running out in the RFP process, chiefly because his goal is to lock down a contract sometime in October.

Part of next summer’s Aspen Shift program also includes an emphasis on having Aspen-bound motorists use the Brush Creek Intercept Lot and Buttermilk parking lot.

The Buttermilk lot would serve as a venue for commuters to park their vehicles and commute into town by using various forms of bikes. The city said it also has approached Aspen bike stores about setting up a pop-up shop there for bicycle maintenance; so far, one had expressed interest.

The city projects the Intercept Lot would capture the bulk of vehicles, possibly 500 to 600 a day.

Commuters using use non-vehicle means, other than carpools, to get into town — whether by bus, bike, foot or an on-demand service — also would be rewarded through an app called “Miles,” which would provide them gift cards for changing their transportation behavior based on their level of commitment.

Councilman Ward Hauenstein, while on board with the general concept for next summer’s mission, cast skepticism about how next year’s Aspen Shift would work in perpetuity, saying “we don’t have the revenue to do it like this forever.” And Councilman Bert Myrin said the goal appears to be to detract Aspen residents from driving into town so that the visitors who shop downtown can get parking spaces.

“Are we displacing people who may not be spending as much in retail and restaurants and replacing them with people who will spend more?” he asked, suggesting that such a concept would effectively “create a gate around the commercial core.”

The multi-layered mission is intended to help the city determine what behavior changes are realistic and can be pursued further after next year’s experiment, Perl said.

The ultimate goal, said Mayor Steve Skadron and Councilwoman Ann Mullins, is to reduce the number of vehicles into town. Skadron has been adamant that the S-curves — not a straight-shot through the Marolt open space — is his preferred entrance into Aspen.

“We want the people, just not the automobiles,” he said.

Mullins, while saying that next summer’s Aspen Shift is complex and “difficult to visualize,” said the city must stay the course on its effort to reduce vehicles.

“We really need to keep chipping away at this. … Increased capacity is not going to work.”


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