Roaring Fork Valley bus system’s winter operations plan hits state speed bump
The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s winter operations plan hit a speed bump.
RFTA hoped to increase capacity to 75% on vehicles that were making a one-way trip of less than 15 minutes this winter. But the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued guidance for public transit operators Nov. 2 that allows for a maximum capacity of 50%.
That will force RFTA to be flexible and “go with the flow,” RFTA chief operating officer Kurt Ravenschlag informed the board of directors at its monthly meeting Thursday. To ignore the guidance would risk loss of funds dispersed through the Colorado Department of Transportation, he said.
The restrictions will limit RFTA to carrying 24 passengers in its 45-foot buses, 18 passengers in its 40-foot buses and 16 passengers in its 35-foot buses. It will force RFTA to devote more resources to provide service and potentially leave some customers standing in the cold, at least temporarily.
“Restricting vehicle occupancy to 50 percent of vehicle seated capacity will stretch RFTA’s capability in terms of the number of vehicles required to meet anticipated demand,” said a memo to the board from Ravenschlag. “As a result, there may be insufficient vehicles in the fleet to provide additional backup buses and a greater number of passengers could be left waiting longer at bus stops for the next scheduled bus.”
RFTA has employed a system during the pandemic where it has backup buses stationed to serve busy stops at prime times. There are often more passengers waiting than the regular bus can accommodate, so the backups get pressed into service.
RFTA officials had hoped to boost capacity to 75% on routes in Aspen such as Hunter Creek, Cemetery Lane, the Crosstown Shuttle and Galena Street Shuttle. Higher capacity was also targeted on skier shuttles serving Buttermilk and Aspen Highlands as well as service between the Brush Creek Park-and-Ride and Snowmass Mall/Base Village.
RFTA officials still hope the state health department can be convinced to allow flexibility. An association for transit agencies in the state continues to lobby the government. The Colorado Association of Ski Towns also is working on the issue, according to Aspen Councilwoman and RFTA board member Ann Mullins.
Another RFTA board member, Eagle County Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney, said Eagle County’s pubic health department also is lobbying the state for flexibility on bus capacity. Research shows that carpooling is a major conduit for spreading the disease, she said. Restricting access in buses could potentially increase private vehicle use and ride sharing.
Bus passengers are required to wear masks.
RFTA’s goal this winter is to employ 212 bus drivers. “Currently, RFTA estimates it has approximately 196 bus operators available, some of whom are in various stages of training, and the goal is to attain a minimal staffing level of 212 bus operators,” Ravenschlag’s memo said.
Ski season starts on Thanksgiving with the opening of Aspen Mountain and Snowmass. Aspen Skiing Co. crafted an operating plan to deal with COVID-19-related issues.
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Highway 82 east of Aspen over Independence Pass is closed for safety reasons Tuesday as the latest snowstorm rolls into the Colorado mountains, according to CDOT.