RFTA hires security for ‘Vomit Comet’
September 14, 2006
The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority concluded Thursday it must spend about $21,000 annually to deal with unruly drunks on its buses.RFTA’s board of directors voted unanimously to hire a private security firm to patrol Rubey Park and ride some of the late-night buses, infamously known as Vomit Comets because they often haul people who partied in Aspen to their residences downvalley.”Due to people being pretty intoxicated, things can get out of hand every once in a while,” said RFTA chief executive officer Dan Blankenship.RFTA staff already hired First Line Security on an emergency basis. The company had guards patrolling the Aspen bus station from 11 p.m. until after the last buses roll at 2:15 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Kent Blackmer, RFTA’s co-director of operations, said the security firm was hired on a two-month trial basis. He believes it will be a big help that allows drivers and supervisors to concentrate on moving people “instead of trying to cope with these crazies on the bus.”Seven years ago RFTA adopted a “zero-tolerance” policy, which meant drivers would call the cops on people who couldn’t care for themselves or posed a threat to drivers or other passengers. That’s worked well until about one year ago, when issues with intoxicated people seemed to increase, according to Blackmer. RFTA is dealing with greater numbers of “people passed out, unable to walk, fighting, hassling other passengers,” he said.Three bus drivers were assaulted in the last two years. In one case, a passenger didn’t want to pay the fare, so he punched the driver in the face, Blackmer said. A Snowmass Village cop escorting an intoxicated woman to the bus witnessed the incident.In addition to approving the security, the RFTA board voted to write a letter to local law enforcement agencies asking them not to put people on the buses when they have clearly had too much to drink.”I think we have to take a stand of no more bus therapy,” said Snowmass Village councilman and RFTA board member Bill Boineau.The First Line Security officers are easy to identify, according to Blackmer. Their uniforms are white polo shirts with khaki pants, red jackets or fleece with name tags, security badges and the company name. The security officers don’t have the ability to arrest anyone. They will try to deter inappropriate behavior and intervene if problems arise, but they are instructed to call police if the issue warrants, according to RFTA officials.Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud said her son worked for First Line and another local security company, and found that size matters in the business.”Size is often a very effective deterrent,” she said.Basalt Councilman Gary Tennenbaum, also RFTA board member, said the presence of a security guard will probably work wonders in getting riders to behave.”I’ve been on the Vomit Comet before, and most of them aren’t true criminals. They’re just drunk,” he said.RFTA will put a long-term security contract out to bid this fall and have a company in place once First Line’s temporary contract runs out in November.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com.