After becoming the first small town in America to launch a bike-share program this spring, Aspen and Pitkin County racked up another transportation first by introducing the first rural bus rapid transit system in the country this week. The new bus system, branded as "VelociRFTA," will increase peak-time bus arrival frequency along Highway 82 to one every twelve minutes, and will cut the commute to Aspen from Glenwood Springs, which can take anywhere from an hour and twenty minutes to two hours, down to somewhere between 55 minutes and an hour - a big deal for families and other workers who've been priced out of living in America's ritziest ski town but still work there.
As well, new bus stations along the route will have their own ticket vending machines as well as next-bus arrival time displays that will be updated in realtime. Tech-minded commuters will appreciate that all buses and bus stations will be equipped with WiFi, while applications found on myRFTA.com offer real-time updates about bus arrivals and movements, which are visible on a map. The new service will remain free for all commuters through tomorrow, and will remain free for travelers within Aspen and Snowmass VIllage.
The buses are hybrid electric and burn a biodiesel blend, part of the City of Aspen's focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, which account for the majority (43%) of Aspen's emissions. The new director of the city's Canary Initiative, Ashley Perl, will be searching for ways to make more gains in emissions reductions there as well as in the city's electricity use (the second biggest emitter) in order to meet stated goals of reducing the city's emissions by 30% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. So far Aspen's reduced its energy use to 6% below a 2004 baseline, and although it had hoped to be at 11% by now, voters rejected the city's push for a hydro power facility on Castle Creek, and test wells discovered limited potential for widespread use of geothermal.
But Perl is also expanding the Initiative's mission from one focused solely on reducing greenhouse gases to one focused also on preparing the city for the impending realities of climate change. Under the guise of "preparedness planning," Perl is investigating how changing snowfall and water availability, increased wildfire risk, and changing vegetation will affect life in the area. Aspen/Snowmass sustainability officials have said that unchecked global CO2 emissions and their corresponding rise in temperatures could limit dependable snowfall to the upper quarter of Aspen Mountain, and Perl worries about the possibility of West Nile disease being introduced to an area that has never known it.
· Head of RFTA details work of transit system overhaul [Aspen Daily News]