Redstone business owners say bus service is needed | AspenTimes.com
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Redstone business owners say bus service is needed

Allyn Harvey

It’s pretty hard to find anyone up the Crystal who is opposed to the proposition of bus service between Redstone and Carbondale.

“Without bus service, I lose on both ends – I have to pay my employees more and I don’t get as many customers,” says Redstone Cliffs Lodge owner Eric Yoder.

“Staffing up here is a struggle. We pull people in from a lot of other areas,” says Redstone Castle owner Debbie Harte. “I think it’s time for the citizens up here to sit down and take a serious look at it.”

“I think they should give it a try and see if it works,” adds Crystal Club Cafe owner Billy Amicon. “It wouldn’t be too expensive if it didn’t work out.”

Actually, depending on the level of service, it could be very expensive. Some of the valley’s top transit officials are worried that new service to Redstone would mean a lot of people elsewhere would have to see their service cut.

“Transportation dollars are extremely limited and the RFTA and RTA boards have to make very difficult decisions about how to spend those dollars in a way that benefits the most people,” said Dan Blankenship, executive director of the Roaring Fork Transit Agency.

A study undertaken last year for the Rural Transportation Authority estimated the cost to provide seven runs a day – three in the morning, one at noon and three in the late afternoon – between Carbondale and Redstone somewhere between $225,000 and $275,000.

“I’m hesitant to give out those cost estimates because I have a number of different estimates here,” said Mike Davis, the Roaring Fork Transit Agency’s planning director. But he did add that the study estimated that $20,000 a year would be generated in fares.

Add that amount to the roughly $63,500 in transit-dedicated sales taxes collected from businesses in Redstone in 1998, and the total is still far short of the amount needed to operate the route. If RFTA does end up serving Redstone, “we’d be putting another service out there that’s pretty heavily subsidized,” Davis said.

Still, business owners think some kind of service, even if it’s just two runs a day, would help their bottom lines.

Yoder reckons he lost business last winter when a group of Venezuelans working at the Sunlight Ski Area passed up accommodations at his lodge because there was no way for them to get back and forth to work.

He also says the lack of bus service forces up wages, because his employees say they have to cover the cost of owning a car to drive themselves from Glenwood or New Castle or El Jebel. Housekeepers at the lodge earn about $13 an hour.

Amicon says his employees come from as far away as Parachute. To deal with the commute, they generally work two shifts a day, lunch and dinner, in order to cut down on the number of days they work each week.

“I think the service is really needed, although whether it affects my employees depends on how extensive it is. Most of my employees need to be here at night,” he said.

Harte, owner of the Redstone Castle, and others think bus service could have a big influence on summertime business by drawing people who are hesitant to make the drive. “The number one item I hear from the people who attended parties at the Castle is `Man, if only I didn’t have to drive down the valley,’ ” she said.

Business owners aren’t the only ones interested in the service.

“If people going to Aspen, from Marble or Redstone or even Paonia, could leave their cars in Redstone and ride the bus, especially in bad weather, it would be great,” said Judy Morande, an employee at the Redstone Country Store and resident of Marble.

Robert Huntington is a retired merchant and father of two teenagers who has waged a public battle to reopen debate on the issue. He said he would appreciate it if his kids had some other means of transit besides hitchhiking to get up and down the valley. He also notes that Woody Creek is served with peak season (winter and summer) bus service that is heavily subsidized.

“Woody Creek has its bus. That’s because the squeakiest wheel gets the grease, and there are a lot of people there who can afford to be squeaky,” Huntington said.

RFTA’s Davis confirmed that service to Woody Creek is a pricey venture. Every passenger on the Aspen-to-Woody Creek run pays a $2 fare; RFTA makes up the difference at a rate of $32.61 per passenger. By comparison, the RFTA cost per passenger on the free ride from Aspen to Iselin Park is $2.26. The cost of valley service overall is $2.18 per passenger.

Even though it is very expensive and used by fewer and fewer people each year, service to Woody Creek has proven difficult to eliminate. “The Woody Creek run has been around a long time and had a steady ridership over 10 years,” Davis said. “It’s hard to eliminate or restructure service when you have regular ridership like we do there.”

The RFTA board has agreed to look at service to Redstone in the upcoming review of transit needs.

“We’ll analyze things and see what kind of service can be done for the [Highway] 133 corridor,” Blankenship said.

“Maybe there’s something innovative and creative we can do, but we really have to get a handle on demand and try to understand how many people would use the service if it were offered,” he added.


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