Downtowner stifles mobility innovation in Aspen
On Monday, the Aspen City Council approved spending $275,782 of the community’s money to extend the Downtowner service until April, despite a 45 percent cost increase to cover the operator’s rising expenses to run the same level of service.
The choice to extend the contract was claimed to be driven by an interest to be “socially equitable.” Whether the Downtowner cost effectively creates social equity for users is debatable, but what’s certain is that it’s absolutely the least business-equitable program in our community.
Its economic impact on small-business mobility providers — shrinking their business — has been well documented and largely ignored. More importantly, what’s unfortunate and inequitable about writing an enormous check to one business, which happens to be from out of town, is that it stifles innovation in the sector that it’s meant to be the darling of: on-demand service mobility. What entrepreneur is going to invest to participate in providing shared mobility services when they have to compete with a service that the city has 100 percent backstopped?
In the interest of constructively providing alternatives, here are some ideas for how the $275,782 could be better spent to achieve the same goals.
1. $100,000 to provide pedicab chariots that locals can check out to provide no fare rides (gratuity optional). Pedicabs have a much lower fixed cost than the Downtowner electric carts and are more in line with our community values and cycling community claim.
2. $50,000 to make We-Cycle no-fare for all users and to provide for any additional stations required to service the same area as the Downtowner.
3. $25,000 to cover discounting rates of Car to Go rentals. Similar to Lyft and Uber rental car programs, the city pays a portion or all of the Car To Go rental based on the number of rides the renter services during the rental period.
4. $25,000 budgeted for rebates for locals who replace a gas vehicle with the purchase of an electric vehicle. This is in addition to the state and federal rebates.
5. $25,000 for rebates for locals purchasing an e-bike or bike to replace a gas vehicle (car registration discontinued).
6. $25,000 for rebates for locals that utilize car-share through sites such as Turo.com. Rebate per resident to be capped.
7. $25,000 small-business loan fund for locals looking to start a shared mobility service. For example, apply for a loan to start a business renting e-bikes at Highlands to the 80,000-plus tourists visiting Maroon Bells each summer, getting visitors out of cars and buses and onto bikes.
Experts say that we’re in uncharted territory with changing technology and emerging mobility services. The only proven formula for changing people’s habits to reduce dependence on single-occupancy vehicles and to reduce congestion is to provide multiple options. The city fully subsidizing one mobility service is counterproductive to the notion that we must provide lots of options and be inclusive of everyone who wants to participate in the shared mobility economy.
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