Officials work to keep Aspen-Snowmass bus free | AspenTimes.com

Officials work to keep Aspen-Snowmass bus free

Jill Beathard
Snowmass Sun
Aspen, CO Colorado

SNOWMASS VILLAGE – Local officials came to an agreement Thursday that they want to keep the bus service between Aspen and Snowmass Village free year-round. Who’s going to cover the cost of that service is still in question.

Thursday’s meeting of the Elected Officials Transportation Committee, composed of government officials from Aspen, Pitkin County and Snowmass Village, concluded with a proposal for the town of Snowmass Village to cover the cost of the service during the summer and for the three governments to split the cost for the rest of the year.

The Aspen City Council and the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously for the proposal, but the Snowmass Village Town Council was split, 2-2. If no action is taken, the fare-free service will end in April. The committee is trying to avoid that and also trying to set a course of action before 2013 budget discussions begin in the fall. Snowmass Village Councilman Jason Haber was absent from the meeting, and if he is not in favor of the proposal, the committee will reconvene to find a new solution.

The bus service between Aspen and Snowmass has been offered fare-free since 2008, and the cost has been covered with funds controlled by the Elected Officials Transportation Committee. Those funds are supported by a half-cent sales tax collected by each of those governments, 81 percent of which goes to the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority.

The current 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.

A subcommittee was formed to recommend a funding policy for the no-fare bus service and capital budget. Its recommendation was that the town of Snowmass Village cover the cost of the summer service on its own, that the three governments continue to share funding of the winter service and that the free service end for spring and fall.

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The Snowmass Village Town Council wanted to come up with a different solution, in part because of the financial burden placed on the town and a desire to maintain the service year-round.

Councilman Fred Kucker said another reason was that the recommendation also called for pulling money out of lockboxes set aside for improving the entrance to Aspen and for developing a transit center in Snowmass Village. Kucker said taking money from the lockboxes is not a viable long-term solution.

Aspen Councilman Adam Frisch suggested alleviating the financial burden on Snowmass Village in order to come to a compromise on the subcommittee’s recommendation. Officials moved the discussion toward also keeping the service consistent throughout the year.

“I’m all for consistency year-round,” said Commissioner Rachel Richards. “But the capital reserve has to be there. I don’t think this discussion is all about ‘fare or no fare.'”

Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland, who served on the subcommittee, made the proposal to keep the subcommittee’s original recommendation but add that the three governments share the cost of the spring and fall service.

“I do believe that, as the Snowmass Town Council, we need to compromise,” Councilwoman Markey Butler said. “I feel good about the spirit of the conversations tonight.”

Ireland said it was agreed upon for Snowmass to cover summer so that the town would take on some share on its own and to make it easier to calculate what that amount would be.

The proposal also calls for reserving a set amount of money in a pool for capital expenses.

Snowmass council members Kucker and John Wilkinson voted against the proposal.