Editorial: Electric buses should be priority for RFTA routes to Bells | AspenTimes.com

Editorial: Electric buses should be priority for RFTA routes to Bells

The Aspen Times

Imagine it’s a sunny day in September. The aspen forest in the Maroon Bells Scenic Area is ablaze in yellows and oranges. The distinctive autumn smell of drying leaves permeates the air. The sky is a brilliant blue. The first snow covers the red-hued peaks jutting behind Maroon Lake.

The tranquil setting that attracts people from around the world is perfect — until the roar of a RFTA bus reverberates in the narrow valley. For a few seconds, it sounds and smells more like a stock car track than one of the most pristine places on Earth.

It’s been more than 40 years since local officials, environmentalists and the U.S. Forest Service had the foresight to restrict private vehicles and offer public bus service up to Maroon Lake. The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and its predecessors have provided exemplary service for four decades.

Without the bus service, private vehicles would overwhelm the roads, trample vegetation in the desperation of finding a parking spot, choke the air with fumes and make the experience a nightmare for cyclists.

But now it is time for another critical step in the preservation of one of the great outdoor places. Aspen-area officials need to rally to start serving the Maroon Bells with electric buses.

The Bells trips start again June 9 for the summer.

As many as 12 buses run nonstop between Aspen Highlands and Maroon Lake on peak days of the summer and fall. The number of passenger trips has soared from 66,992 in 2000 to 215,562 last summer.

Chances are demand is going to continue to grow. Tough decisions loom for RFTA’s member jurisdiction because the service requires a subsidy. To add more service would require a greater subsidy.

An easier decision should be the switch to electric buses, regardless of whether more frequent service is added. RFTA is placing an order for eight electric battery-powered buses this month. They could be in service by this time 2020. Once they are road worthy, RFTA plans to conduct a pilot project to make sure the technology can handle the steep mountain roads required to service the Bells and Snowmass Village. The technology appears promising.

RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship has said he would like all of its buses eventually to be electric.

The authority would like in November to propose a new property tax that would update its fleet and expand service.

RFTA should make it a high priority to buy and use as many electric buses as possible for service to the Maroon Bells between early June and early October. If those pan out, more of the buses should be ordered so all the Maroon Bells service can be served by quiet, zero-emission vehicles.

It is only fitting that a world-class destination gets world-class service.

The Aspen Times editorial board is made up of the publisher, editor and members of the Times staff.