RFTA buses to offer Internet access | AspenTimes.com

RFTA buses to offer Internet access

Eben Harrell

Fancy checking your e-mail on the bus between Aspen and Snowmass? Want to do some Internet shopping on the ride down to Glenwood Springs?Such scenarios are only a few years from becoming reality, as the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority has partnered with a wireless technology company to bring its technology, if not its buses, up to laser speed.Last week, Aspen-based technology company Aspenworks installed an Internet Hotspot at the Rubey Park bus station. Anyone at the station can now access a high-speed Internet connection through a wireless notebook computer or wireless Personal Digital Assistant. RFTA’s park-and-ride lots will soon boast the technology, too.It’s the first of many planned improvements, according to RFTA officials. RFTA has signed on to a long-term project called Bus Rapid Transit to modernize its bus routes. One aspect will be a communication system that will connect buses to bus stops and to the bus dispatch center. The network will be used to display the arrival time of the next bus.Dispatch will also be able to track a bus’ progress, making it possible to make adjustments to routes. Passengers will be able to access the Internet while on the bus and RFTA may someday be able to provide other entertainment options, such as weather, music and news, to its passengers.”Right now we are looking at getting Internet at the park and rides. All the rest is pie in the sky stuff. But it’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of time,” RFTA Data Manager Phillip Schultz said.Schultz said the partnership with Aspenworks is a “win-win” relationship. Once expenses are recouped through Internet charges, revenue will be shared between the two bodies. Internet access at Rubey Park currently costs $2 an hour with bulk time discounts available.Further technology improvements must wait for federal funding, Schultz said. He added that RFTA has a strong proposal and expects funding within the next 10 years.”How fast it happens depends greatly on the federal government and how much money it decides to allocate for mass transit. We are in good stead because we’ll likely be able to find support in this valley to match federal funds,” Schultz said. An Aspenworks spokesman said that already the improvements are having an impact. Rubey Park sold its first Internet ticket last week. A check-in with passengers at Rubey park on Wednesday showed that the Hotspot was a hot topic for discussion.”It’s definitely something helpful. If you don’t have access at work or home, and you had time to kill, it could be helpful,” El Jebel resident Bren Coffelt said.”It’s not a great idea. I don’t have a laptop and most of the people who ride the bus don’t either, so who is it for?” Aspen resident Troy Atchison said.”I think it’s a great idea. I can’t wait until you can see how long you have to wait for the bus,” Mastassia Hill said.Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com