Transit agency wants extra bus from Highlands to Maroon Lake |

Transit agency wants extra bus from Highlands to Maroon Lake

Jeremy Heiman

The Roaring Fork Transit Agency expects to add bus service from Highlands Village to Maroon Lake this summer.

While the new service is not intended to replace the current seasonal service from Rubey Park to Maroon Lake, it could reduce traffic and parking problems in Aspen. The project is a result of cooperation between RFTA, the U.S. Forest Service, Highlands Village and the Aspen Skiing Co.

In recent years, RFTA has run the Maroon Lake buses every 20 minutes, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. RFTA operations manager Paul Hilts said in the coming season, there will be two departures per hour from Highlands, and the service from Rubey Park will be reduced to twice hourly. Whether that will provide for enough buses isn’t known, Hilts said.

“Until you run it, you don’t know for sure,” he said. “We’ll take what we learn this summer and apply it in the future.”

The service is expected to be used both by motorists who have been turned back at the Maroon Lake entrance station and by visitors coming up Highway 82. Jim Upchurch, Aspen District ranger for the U.S. Forest Service, said his agency turns back at least 200 vehicles daily at the entrance station.

“Right now, the only option we can give them is to go downtown and get a bus from Rubey,” Upchurch said. This contributes to traffic and parking problems in Aspen.

“What we’re trying to do is balance the traffic,” Upchurch said. Highlands is closer, and it has a lot of parking.

The current service is operated under an agreement between RFTA and the Forest Service. The $5 bus fare includes visitors’ entrance fees. A new agreement will be more complex.

“We’ve tried to structure this so there are incentives for [Highlands] and the Forest Service to get us as many riders as possible,” Hilts said.

Highlands Village will allow free parking, the Skico will provide a ticket sales person at Highlands and RFTA will provide equipment and drivers.

Hilts credited Georgia Hanson of Hines, the company that developed Highlands Village, with pulling the project together.

“She’s been instrumental in getting the Skico and RFTA and the Forest Service together on this,” he said. “She’s put a lot of time and energy into the project.”

Hanson was not available for comment.

The new schedule will require one more driver per day, but no additional equipment, Hilts said.

“We’ve tried to use the resources we have,” he said.

Numerous arrangements must be made before the new service becomes a reality, Hilts said, but it is RFTA’s intention to carry out the plan.

Bus service to the Maroon Bells originated from Highlands when the ski area was under the ownership of Whip Jones. The service was moved to Rubey Park in the early 1990s.

Extending the Maroon Lake bus schedule into the evening is also under discussion, Upchurch said. It’s thought that more people might ride the bus for an afternoon hike if they could catch a return bus later than 5 p.m.

“It’s something we need to look at,” Upchurch said.

Hilts said Highlands Village may schedule a late sweep with a shuttle bus for the coming season. If that service is successful, he said, RFTA might step in with a late bus in the future.

Upchurch said the Forest Service is looking into offering a season bus pass that would be tied into a season entrance pass to the Maroon Lake area.

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