RFTA keeps bus Wi-Fi in proposal | AspenTimes.com

RFTA keeps bus Wi-Fi in proposal

CARBONDALE – The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority won’t back down from plans to install broadband Internet service for bus riders despite U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton’s complaint that it’s a luxury.

RFTA’s board of directors voted Thursday to spend $2.885 million on Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) components, conditional on receiving federal and state grants. The board met in Carbondale.

The ITS has several components. Scheduling software, for example, will replace the manual scheduling system and make it more efficient. Automated Vehicle Location and Computer Aided Dispatch will allow RFTA to better track its buses and dispatch vehicles where needed, like when a bevy of riders is waiting at a particular stop during a special event or when a bus gets stuck in a snowstorm and cannot make it to its next stop.

RFTA board member John Wilkinson said he wanted to make sure a wireless Internet connection accessible to bus passengers was still part of the technology package. RFTA staff members assured him it was. It is a $15,000 item in the broader package.

RFTA board member John Hoffman inquired if wireless service for buses should be removed from the package to ensure the bus agency gets Tipton’s support for a $25 million federal grant. Other board members quickly rejected the idea.

Tipton declined last month to sign a letter urging the Federal Transit Agency to release RFTA’s grant as soon as possible. The letter was signed by U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet as well as U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, all Democrats from Colorado. Tipton, a Republican, represents the 3rd Congressional District, which includes Pitkin County.

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Tipton press aide Josh Green explained May 24 why Tipton didn’t support release of the grant as proposed: “The Congressman’s objection is not to expanding the bus line and expanding access to public transportation. The objection is to the call for full $25 million appropriation that does not allow for congressional oversight to go through that and trim out things like broadband Internet access on buses – things that are luxuries at a time when we’re looking at a $14.3 trillion debt.”

Phil Schultz, RFTA information technology director, said he understood from a letter from Tipton’s office that the congressman wasn’t singling out the broadband Internet service on buses as his reason for withholding support. The service is being used to demonstrate Tipton’s broader point – that spending must be carefully scrutinized and pared whenever possible, Schultz said.

RFTA board chair Michael Owsley said Thursday he believes Tipton’s lack of support for the RFTA grant is “purely political” and “not philosophical at all.”

The RFTA board approved the appropriation for the ITS unanimously, with little further debate.

The agency is still awaiting word on its federal grant.