RFTA hopes to boost bus capacity in Aspen area for winter | AspenTimes.com

RFTA hopes to boost bus capacity in Aspen area for winter

People load onto an evening bus to Snowmass wearing masks at Rubey Park Transit Center in Aspen on Wednesday, August 12, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and its partners are taking their first stab at planning critical bus service for the ski season.

RFTA hopes to fill buses up to 75% of capacity when making one-way trips of less than 15 minutes for the winter, according to a preliminary plan revealed Thursday. That would mean up to 27 passengers on its 40-foot buses and 24 passengers on its 35-foot buses, according to CEO Dan Blankenship. RFTA is currently carrying no more than 15 passengers per bus of any size.

“We believe RFTA has been pretty conservative,” Blankenship told RFTA’s board of directors at a meeting. The largest buses have a capacity of 54 riders.

The conservative approach appears to have paid off. As of Sept. 4, RFTA had no employees on sick leave for COVID-19-related reasons, Blankenship said. He noted that in recent days there was a report of one employee testing positive. Contact tracing will take place to see if anyone else became ill and to quarantine.

“So far I think we’ve done a good job of protecting our employees and the public,” Blankenship said.

RFTA disinfects buses each day. There is a “sneeze guard” engulfing the driver’s compartment. That will be replaced by a Plexiglas shield on buses by winter. RFTA also limits passengers, and requires 6-foot minimum distancing and masks on the bus.

Increasing capacity for short hauls would affect skier shuttle service between Aspen, Buttermilk and Aspen Highlands that Aspen Skiing Co. pays for through a special contract with RFTA. It would also affect routes within Aspen.

Skico officials have said one of the challenges for the winter will be reducing “pinch points” at the ski areas — including bus stops, base areas and lift lines. However, skier shuttles will also be more important than ever because the limited amount of parking at the ski areas is expected to fill early and often.

In RFTA’s preliminary plan, capacity will be up to 50% on scheduled trips longer than 15 minutes in duration.

“Buses deemed to be at capacity by the bus operator or operations management personnel will not allow passengers to enter the bus,” said a memo from RFTA staff to the board. “Buses at capacity may not stop (for additional riders) until passenger load has dropped below capacity.”

Blankenship said a group comprised of representatives from RFTA, city of Aspen, Pitkin County, town of Snowmass Village, Skico and Pitkin County Public Health has been meeting to discuss the transit plan. The public health board still must review RFTA’s proposed plan. It is scheduled to be discussed next week, according to Markey Butler, Snowmass Village mayor and RFTA board member. She is also on the public health board.

“I’m very supportive of the direction you’re moving,” Butler said.

Pitkin County Commissioner and RFTA board member George Newman sounded a word of caution. He said RFTA will be hauling people this winter who are coming from states that haven’t done as good of job as Colorado at practicing social distancing, wearing masks and other precautions against the spread of the coronavirus.

Markey said she has raised the idea that any travelers staying in Snowmass Village this winter should be limited to skiing at Snowmass and people staying in Aspen should be limited to Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands. That idea hasn’t been popular in discussions, she said.


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