Aspen’s Shift is multi-million dollar test in alternative transportation
Aspen’s elected officials Monday are expected to continue their spending on an estimated $2.5 million experiment that attempts to reduce 800 cars from coming into town every day.
Two key pieces to the city’s mobility lab, called Shift, are in front of Aspen City Council in the form of contracts — one a data collecting engineering firm and the other is a mobile app called Miles that allows motorists to earn rewards for using alternative modes of transit.
Council is being asked to approve a $63,000 expenditure for a four-month test of the Miles app and data, enrollment promotion and local incentives from October to January.
The other contract is with HDR Engineering for $285,000 to collect data on the lab through 2019.
The actual experiment, which seeks to reduce congestion at the entrance to Aspen, begins in earnest June 1, said Ashley Perl, the city’s Shift project director.
“It’s an incredibly positive program that’s going to do amazing things and I hope the community likes it,” she said. “Shift is about begging them, convincing them to change their behavior.”
THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT
Getting motorists to change will be done by enticing them to try different transit options and seek rewards for doing so. The initial goal is to get as many people as possible who currently commute by single-occupancy vehicle to engage with the app.
There, they will find a host of incentives aimed at getting them out of their cars — from basic rewards such as a cup of coffee to accruing points for a grand prize like a ski pass, according to Perl in a memo to council.
“Foundational Rewards” are built into the Miles product and are designed for people to get excited about the app and check in regularly. Miles pays for the rewards with over 30 national partners.
“Challenge Rewards” will be offered once a critical mass of single-occupancy vehicle users are enrolled and engaged with the app.
Those rewards are designed by the city, using gift cards and offers from local merchants — for very specific behaviors the local government wants to promote.
For the test this fall and winter, the city will invest $20,000 for $5 and $10 gift cards and subsidized offers from local businesses, merchants and restaurants to be used for challenge prizes.
In the test plan for September and October, Shift organizers will sign up between 250 and 300 city staff members. The city will purchase gift cards from local businesses, valued at $10,000, for challenges during the two-month period. Miles will match with $10,000 for national rewards.
Perl said the city already has a reward program for municipal employees to use mass transit and carpool, so that $10,000 is just being redistributed.
“We are asking employees to test the app first,” she said.
The goal is to add another 750 commuters as soon as possible after the initial test. Another $20,000 in promotion spending will be allocated to acquire those additional people for the December-January test, according to Perl’s memo.
In December, the plan will roll out to local merchants and between 2,000 and 2,500 additional commuters and residents.
The technology within the app allows Miles to automatically know if someone is riding a bike, carpooling with others, taking a RFTA bus, walking, using WE-Cycle bike share or taking the free Downtowner transit vehicle.
The user can check the app to see how many miles they’ve earned and redeem rewards. They also will see the various transit options the city is offering.
Miles has been endorsed by cities including San Francisco and Sacramento, Perl noted in her memo.
For the four-month test, the city’s direct cost for the Miles contract is $23,000. The license for the app for 2019 is $90,000.
“We are incentivizing people for everything they do,” Perl said. “We want to heavily incentivize the Brush Creek lot.”
THE MONEY BEHIND MOBILITY
The largest expenditure of next year’s $2.5 million budget for Shift is for transit options at the Brush Creek Intercept Lot, which includes increased bus service, passenger vans that take people to specific destinations with their dogs or tools, and an in-town, transit-on-demand service.
Combined, along with new amenities at the Brush Creek lot, like tables, umbrellas at waiting areas and coffee and food trucks, the “mobility” line item is estimated to cost nearly $1.3 million in 2019.
Incentives are budgeted at $175,100, and public outreach and marketing is estimated at $200,000 for next year.
Perl said there will be aggressive outreach in 2019 about Shift, with ambassadors stationed at various transit stops in the valley and other far-reaching efforts.
A request for proposals will go out this fall for the public outreach and marketing contract, Perl said.
“We need to let people know in April and May that Shift is coming June 1,” she said. “It’s not going to be one person with a flyer.”
This year, only $25,000 is allocated to public outreach and marketing. Local PR consultant Rachel Hadley, who owns Manifest Communication, has been contracted by the city to conduct pop-up events this summer and fall that involve surveying people about the project, and what incentives would get them to park at the Intercept lot and take alternative transit into town.
Jeanette Darnauer, principal of Darnauer Group, has been hired to conduct one-on-one interviews and small focus groups with people who are vocal on transportation issues in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Project management also is a big-ticket item for Shift. The three-year budget shows nearly $370,000 allocated.
Paying Candice Olson as the project manager, along with Perl’s time, as well as a consultant in Washington D.C., costs an average of about $100,000 a year. That has been an annual expenditure since 2017, when the lab was introduced.
Olson, who owns Local Coffee Shop on Cooper Avenue, gets about $60,000 for her consulting services. She specializes in project management and fundraising, Perl said.
While the three-year budget for Shift shows nearly $3.5 million in spending, Perl said not all of that will be used.
In 2017, just under $300,000 was spent even though $470,300 was budgeted. The leftover amount was rolled into the 2018 budget, which was set at $429,500.
Perl estimates about two-thirds of that budget will be spent this year.
She said the 2019 budget won’t change much, but it will be refined and brought back to council for final approval in the coming weeks.
In the next few months, contracts will come up for approval for a company to offer macro-transit shuttles, as well as the in-town transit service “The Ride” and a bike-share program.
Perl said if Shift continues into future years, she doesn’t expect the $2.5 million budget to stay on that level.
“We don’t know what is going to work yet, that’s why we are doing this,” she said.
Seventy percent of the funding for Shift is coming from the city’s transportation fund, which is supported by parking fees and fines, and the other 30 percent will be paid out of the general fund, according to Perl.
Shift will draw on lessons from select pilot programs in over 25 cities throughout the world and is characterized in a staff memo to council as “the most advanced community-wide pilot program executed to date.”