City of Aspen to reinvent the wheel on next year’s $2.6 million transit experiment
The city of Aspen is shifting gears on its multi-million dollar mobility lab experiment after getting run over by local bike shop owners and taxi and limo drivers who criticized the government for creating subsidized competition for them.
Ashley Perl, the city’s climate action manager, said this week plans for the lab, which is called SHIFT, have been put on ice until the beginning of the year.
“We’ll take two weeks and get a fresh perspective,” she said.
Perl has to rethink the entire program after Aspen City Council declined to approve an $800,000 contract with Lyft for a large chunk of transit services that were part of SHIFT, including its app where users would pick from an array of options that gets them out of their cars.
The city, through SHIFT, has a goal to get 800 cars off the road each day from June to September with a series of incentives, such as reward miles to redeem at retailers, direct shuttles and dockless e-bikes and scooters.
Council backed off the Lyft partnership at its Dec. 10 meeting after it heard from about two dozen people who are commercial drivers, or own or work in bike shops.
They told elected officials that the public-private partnership would cut into their business and that they haven’t been properly looped into the process to participate.
Perl met with about 20 people in the ground transportation industry Monday to find ways to include them in SHIFT.
She said some had good ideas and expressed a willingness to continue the conversation, and others said it’s a non-starter.
“There was not a rich brainstorm from the local companies on how to reduce traffic,” Perl said. “There was significant hesitation about any type of involvement in SHIFT, due to logistics, concerns and staffing constraints on the side of the local companies.”
At issue for ground transportation workers in the contract with Lyft was the ride-sharing services proposed. It would have combined carpooling and ride hailing, with the user paying a fee, subsidized by the city, based on Lyft’s existing fare platform.
Perl said Lyft is not crucial to SHIFT, but an app that is similar is what’s needed to ensure that users can choose from multiple options.
“We are mulling over, is it worth it to do it another way and still have the same impact?” she said. “It wouldn’t be as seamless.”
Perl said SHIFT can still have an impact with micro-transit at the Brush Creek Intercept Lot, where direct shuttles would take people into and out of town with gear and their dogs.
“I feel that is the easiest and the least politically charged in the project that has the most impact,” she said.
For the past year and a half, the city did extensive outreach to the valley’s largest employers, their employees and hundreds of commuters.
“We’ve heard from the community that they want SHIFT,” Perl said, adding that it’s unfortunate that a loud minority has drowned out the silent majority.
But she and her team will continue the effort because traffic congestion and the related environmental effects aren’t going away.
“If this council doesn’t do it, the next one will be asked to,” Perl said. “This is a major community issue and something we have to keep working on.”
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Kevin Warner started his career with the U.S. Forest Service as a wilderness ranger in 2001. Now he’s taking over the key position as Aspen-Sopris District Ranger.