Plans underway for slightly expanded service to Maroon Lake this year |

Plans underway for slightly expanded service to Maroon Lake this year

RFTA anticipates lower subsidy due to multiple factors

The RFTA shuttle at the Maroon Bells will resume service for the 2021 season via reservations. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Providing vital public transportation to Maroon Lake this year is expected to require less of a public subsidy.

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority estimates its bus service will be about $73,000 in the red this summer. Last year, the service required an estimated subsidy of $187,748.

RFTA and its partners anticipate providing bus service over a longer period, creating some new fares and selling more tickets because of an adjustment on bus capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, the projected subsidy would be smaller.

“The current estimated cost of the Maroon Bells Shuttle for a 133-day season is $1,085,051,” said a memo from RFTA chief executive officer Dan Blankenship to the board of directors. “If ticket sales follow the trend set last year, with 20% more capacity per bus available, net ticket revenue to RFTA at the end of the season would be approximately $1,011,965 and the subsidy for the service would be approximately $73,086 or 7%.”

Blankenship warned that numerous factors could blow up the projections. Wildfires and road closures could prevent visitors from coming to the area. Last year, Interstate 70 was closed in Glenwood Canyon for two weeks because of the Grizzly Creek Fire. This year, floods and mudslides are a risk in the burn scar. Blankenship noted that a spike in COVID cases could also adversely affect demand.

On the other hand, buses are now allowed to operate up to 50% capacity, an increase from last summer. That will result in more tickets and more revenue.

The current plan is to start service June 7 and end Oct. 17 or 24. That would add at least two weeks onto last year’s operations.

The summer shuttle was started decades ago to limit personal vehicles at the Maroon Bells Scenic Area and spare the environment from illegal parking and pollution emissions. The service was in danger of being scrapped last summer due to the pandemic, but RFTA, the U.S. Forest Service, Pitkin County, city of Aspen and Aspen Chamber Resort Association teamed to implement a reservation system.

Masks and social distancing were required and will be again this year. A company called H2O Ventures was hired last summer to operate a reservation system. That will also be utilized again this summer.

The Forest Service receives 65 cents from each ticket sold; H2O Ventures receives $3.68 per ticket for running the reservation system.

The team is considering changes to the ticket prices this year. An adult ticket will be increased from $15.95 to $16. The adult round-trip, walk-up fare would be $20.

In addition, there will be a $10 one-way fare for passengers taking the bus downhill. That’s popular with hikers who travel over from Crested Butte or various trailheads in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. Discounts are being contemplated for seniors and children 12 and younger.

A public hearing is tentatively scheduled for RFTA’s April 8 meeting. Blankenship will brief the board about the planned service at RFTA’s regular monthly meeting Thursday.


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