City of Aspen rolls out $1M for free Downtowner service since ‘16

Aspen City Council on Monday night approved a one-year contract with The Downtowner, a free transportation service that shuttles people within a defined area of town.

The city’s cost to extend the service through next April is $520,370. The city already has spent just over $651,000 for service that began in 2016, when it was first rolled out as a pilot program for the summer.

This most recent contract with the Florida-based company includes four one-year options to renew.

The Downtowner bid against three other providers in December when the city went out for a request for proposals. While local vendors expressed interest in bidding, none did, according to John Krueger, the city’s transportation director.

A city-led committee took the two highest-scoring proposals based on its review criteria and interviewed the companies’ representatives. The Downtowner came out on top, according to a city staff memo to council.

The app-based service has seen rapid growth since its arrival to Aspen. It carried nearly 23,000 people from June to December of 2016. In 2017, the first full year of service, the Downtowner shuttled just over 47,000 people, according to the memo. Ridership so far this year is up 30 percent over the same time period in 2017.

Krueger noted that ridership on the local and valley bus routes is up, as well, and traffic counts decreased slightly in 2017 and so far this year.

Council discussed expanding the service area last May when it extended the service through this month. But council members were split on whether to extend the boundaries, so no decision was reached.

When the service boundaries were initially set up, some locations were excluded based on input from taxis and other transportation businesses concerned about competition.

However, Krueger said the most common customer complaint is people want a larger service area.

Councilman Ward Hauenstein said he’s been approached by several residents who live in large complexes like Centennial and Hunter Creek who would like the service extended to their east end neighborhood. He said they’d be more apt to leave the car home to go to the grocery store or do other errands.

Krueger said the contract allows for the service area to change in the future. He added that his department also is looking at possible increased bus service in that area of town.

Councilman Bert Myrin said he’d like the branding on the side of the vehicles to better reflect that it is part of a larger mass-transit system to eliminate confusion among tourists and others.

The Downtowner provides service through five electric cart vehicles, 12 to 15 hours a day, depending on the season. The new contract expands the service to seven vehicles to accommodate the rapid growth and keep wait times under 10 minutes.