No more free rides | AspenTimes.com

No more free rides

John Colson

Mark Fox/The Aspen Times

A number of Aspen-bound commuters have been getting free bus rides for the last few miles into town all summer, but that soon will change.

Those commuters will find themselves back in their cars every day, all the way into Aspen and back out again, starting Monday.

RFTA, in consultation with the city, will eliminate the free commuter bus ride into town from the Brush Creek intercept lot after Sept. 4, Labor Day, transportation officials confirmed Wednesday. The experimental service started July 10 and ran for nearly two months.

The buses picked people up for free at the intercept lot at the top of the hour and the half-hour through the day, and at the Rubey Park terminal at 15 minutes and 45 minutes after the hour.

Normally, said Roaring Fork Transportation Authority CEO Dan Blankenship, a bus ride from the lot into town, and back, would cost somewhere between $1.75 and $2, based on existing fares from Snowmass and Woody Creek, and depending on discounts.

“I think the intention was, during the crunch of the summertime when traffic was horrendous … to provide an incentive for people to not drive into town,” he said. The city of Aspen will reimburse RFTA for the riders, he said.

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There was some discussion at a recent meeting of the Elected Officials Transportation Committee of continuing the deal into the off-season as a way to gain more information on potential ridership. But Blankenship said that city officials, who initiated the idea for the free fare, and RFTA concluded that the experiment had fulfilled its usefulness and decided not to extend it.

“The program is going to be terminated,” Blankenship said Wednesday, noting that the same program, or one like it, might start up again in the future.

He said RFTA number-crunchers estimated that the service attracted only about 27 riders per day, which amounts to 14 commuters parking their cars at the lot and riding the bus twice a day instead of driving all the way into and out of town.

“I think it was a worthwhile experiment,” Blankenship said. “The question is, where do you want to go from here?”

He suggested that such a service for the future might work better if the buses ran more frequently, perhaps every 15 minutes or less, and if the service extended to Snowmass Village as well as Aspen. Both communities, he maintained, would benefit from having fewer cars driving into town every day.

“It would be more expensive,” he conceded, adding that only the EOTC, which consists of elected officials from Aspen, Pitkin County and Snowmass Village, could address such issues. Those officials, he said, might be willing to subsidize the service to cut down on automotive traffic into the two communities.

Aspen City Councilwoman Rachel Richards, an instigator of the free service who favored extending the experiment into the off-season, said eliminating the fares between Aspen and Snowmass might well be too costly to be justifiable.

But, she said, local officials have no alternative but to seek ways to cut down on traffic congestion in the upper valley, in light of her belief that funds for fixing “the main squeeze point … the S-curves” leading into Aspen, will not be available for some time.

“We have to keep trying,” Richards said.

John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com

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