RFTA will ban alcohol on Aspen-area bus system starting June 9 | AspenTimes.com

RFTA will ban alcohol on Aspen-area bus system starting June 9

Booze will be banned on regional buses starting in June.

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority's board of directors Thursday made good on a previous pledge to ban consumption of alcohol. It comes on the heels of the board's decision in February to beef up security on buses and bus stops. The board voted unanimously Thursday to prohibit open alcoholic containers on buses.

"For me this is really common sense," said Pitkin County Commissioner and RFTA board Chairman George Newman. He noted he unsuccessfully tried to get the board to ban booze a couple of years ago.

Carbondale Mayor and RFTA board member Dan Richardson said he previously opposed the ban but now supports it. The ban and increased security are necessary steps unfortunately required by more aggressive behavior some riders are displaying against drivers and other passengers, he said.

“The allowance of the consumption of alcohol on the bus has created an atmosphere that gives the impression that anything goes.”

— RFTA staff memo

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RFTA's current policy prohibits walking onto a bus with an open container of alcohol but it doesn't ban consumption once inside.

"The allowance of the consumption of alcohol on the bus has created an atmosphere that gives the impression that anything goes, which has led to other problematic and disruptive behavior," said a memo to the board by RFTA Chief Operating Officer Kurt Ravenschlag.

There were four assaults of drivers in 2017 compared with none reported the prior two years, according to RFTA stats. The number of passenger assaults was up last year although passenger assaults were down.

Overall, RFTA reported 91 incidents of all types in 2017 compared with 59 in 2016.

RFTA management was wary of an alcohol ban in the past for fear it would put drivers in a tough spot with enforcement. Drivers need to focus on driving rather than looking for a rider drinking a beer, the staff said. Plus, there was a concern that trying to enforce the alcohol ban could lead to confrontations.

RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship said those remain valid concerns. However, RFTA is banking on voluntary compliance in the high 90 percent range after it undertakes an intensive public education campaign between May 1 and June 9, when the summer schedule kicks in and the ban takes effect. Drivers won't be required to enforce the alcohol ban, the staff memo said.

Drivers won't necessarily be looking for a person sneaking a drink from a beer in the back of the bus, according to Blankenship. If they do see a person drinking, they will have flexibility in how they deal with it. If a rider raises a ruckus, the driver could order them to place the drink in the trash. If they don't comply, the driver could call authorities.

RFTA won't be issuing citations and levying fines for violation of the alcohol policy, though a local jurisdiction could cite someone for an open container, according to Blankenship.

"It's important to understand this is a work in progress," he said.

When riders act violently or create problems with other passengers or the driver, regardless of whether alcohol is involved, the drivers will be encouraged to call RFTA supervisors, Colorado Protective Services or local law enforcement. Colorado Protective Services contracts with RFTA for security on select buses and at bus stops.

Bus drivers will receive training in April and May on RFTA's expectations of their role with enforcement on the policy change, the staff memo said.

Ed Cortez, a bus driver and president of the local chapter of the union the operators belong to, praised the RFTA board's step Thursday.

"This has been a long time coming," Cortez said. "I've been working on this for about a year."

The RFTA board will catch criticism in some quarters for banning alcohol, but Cortez told the board he applauded them for taking a bold step.

"It will be a deterrent," he said. "This is a great moment for us."