Officials to discuss fate of free bus service between Aspen, Snowmass | AspenTimes.com

Officials to discuss fate of free bus service between Aspen, Snowmass

Jill Beathard
Snowmass Sun
Aspen, CO Colorado

SNOWMASS VILLAGE – Local officials will discuss how to pay for bus service between Aspen and Snowmass Village Thursday at a meeting in Snowmass Village. Whether that service remains free, and free year-round, is up for debate.

The service has been offered without a fare since 2009, and the cost has been covered with funds controlled by the Elected Officials Transportation Committee, composed of elected officials from Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County. The EOTC meets Thursday in the Snowmass Town Council chambers. Those funds are supported by a half-cent sales tax collected by each of the governments.

As the economy continues to recover, those tax revenues are not enough to continue supporting a no-fare bus service year-round between Aspen and Snowmass Village, according to Snowmass Village Mayor Bill Boineau. At one point, committee members asked Snowmass Village to find another source of funding on its own in order to continue the service.

“It’s hard to me to give up the free bus service,” Boineau said. “But also being a realist, you only have so many dollars you can spend until you don’t have them.”

The Transportation Committee commits 81 percent of the tax revenues to the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority annually, according to its budget. The current funding policy calls for the remaining revenue to be split, with two-thirds going toward capital projects, including an entrance to Aspen, and one-third into discretionary expenses. The free Aspen-to-Snowmass service is budgeted as a discretionary expense.

The Snowmass Village Town Council is proposing that the committee increase the money allocated for discretionary expenses to 40 percent as a long-term method of funding the free service, according to a letter submitted to the committee. Boineau said plans for the entrance to Aspen aren’t very specific yet and that the council sees the bus service as something that has more benefit right now.

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“This is a thing today that we can point to and say, ‘This is a worthwhile thing,'” Boineau said. “This is one of the things that brings people here, that brings sales tax dollars here.”

Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards said she’d like to see additional funding for the bus service but that it’s important to invest in capital projects, as well. She said traffic into Aspen decreased with the economic downturn but that as it picks back up, improving the entrance to Aspen is going to become important again.

“That is going to be as important to Snowmass Village and the county that we’re able to fund that,” Richards said.

Dan Blankenship, CEO of the transportation authority, said another alternative would be to keep the service free during the winter and reinstitute a fare during the spring and fall. Aspen Skiing Co. pays for the bus service from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the winter, Blankenship said. Either another source of funding would need to be found for the summer or the fare would apply during that season, too.

The fare was $3 before the service became free, but all RFTA fares were increased by $1 in 2009. If reinstated, the fare to ride from Aspen to Snowmass Village, or vice versa, would be $4 to reflect that change, Blankenship said.

Ridership to Snowmass Village on average remained flat from 2008 to 2011. However, Blankenship said services valleywide saw a 20 percent reduction in ridership during that time, mainly due to the struggling economy.

“The fact that the service remained flat while the others were reduced 20 percent is really significant,” Blankenship said.

Thursday’s meeting starts at 4 p.m.

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