Carbondale's community connector

Seeking Higher Ground: Hey, RFTA, don’t leave us outta circulation in Carbondale!

Locations: Columns Published

Having experienced several big-city transit systems — San Francisco, Chicago, Denver — I can testify that RFTA is a gem.

When I moved here, I was astonished to learn that the Roaring Fork Transportation Agency is Colorado’s second-largest transit system, after Denver! (Huh, Colorado Springs?) Interestingly enough Colorado leads the nation in rural public transportation.

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For years, I rode RFTA every weekday. When I lived on Main near the RFTA stop by the Subway stop, getting to work in Snowmass Village was simple. I had to switch busses at Brush Creek, but RFTA has that well timed. RFTA worked even better when I had a one-bus straight shot to the Aspen Business Center.

I hung in with RFTA when I commuted to West Glenwood, but connecting to the Glenwood bus was a pain. (Literally! The Colorado River Valley’s wind blast freezes cheeks and toes faster than the shadows along Brush Creek Road in Snowmass.)

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I’m sorry to say that I rarely ride RFTA nowadays.

That’s a sad comment coming from someone who spent years working in “traffic mitigation”. That term refers to the art of getting people to voluntarily leave their cars at home in favor of public transportation.

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I haven’t abandoned my principles. I care about my carbon footprint. I’ve made many changes to reduce it. The problem is that I moved to Crystal Village.

Now I drive to the library. I drive to Third Street Center. I drive to get groceries. Sadly, the Carbondale Circulator gets close to only one of those places, the grocery. But the nearest Circulator stop is farther away than City Market, so I bike in summer and drive in winter.

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I’m what’s called a “choice rider.” In the transit biz, that differs from a “dependent rider”. Most transit systems are initially built to deliver workers to businesses, particularly workers who have no other way to get to an essential paycheck. Christof Spieler, author of “Trains, Buses, People: An Opinionated Atlas of US Transit,” points out that by serving only transit-dependent riders, “you’re essentially dismissing them…thinking of them as somebody who has no choice but to ride our system, which means there’s no argument for making the system any better for them.”

That’s roughly the developmental stage that characterizes most of our various regional providers, but by developing VelociRFTA, the nation’s first rural bus transit system, RFTA has leapfrogged a bit. VelociRFTA is good enough to lure this choice rider into taking the bus to go skiing.

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If the Circulator stopped nearby, if it went where I needed to go in town, I’d hop aboard waaay more often.

Recently, RFTA surveyed Crystal Meadows Senior Housing residents about transit use. But in  asking whether they had access to cars, RFTA made the mistake of asking only about dependent riders. So RFTA got a predictable result: 76 percent of seniors there have access to cars, same as me.

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That transit-dependent approach is flatly out of line with Carbondale’s desire to get cars off the road. The town’s Comprehensive Plan states that the “ability to get around without using a personal automobile is paramount” and that “multi-modal mobility… is a critical element of quality of life and a sustainable future.”

Recently, John Hoffmann showed me a map that could make choosing transit in town a reality. The Figure III-1 VelociFeeder Alternative would extend Circulator’s loop south along Hendrick (by my house and neighbors at Crystal Meadows Senior Housing), then into River Valley Ranch and back north along 133 and 2nd. It would head west on Colorado, north along 8th and then return to the Park-and-Ride via Village. It would come close to our schools, all our senior housing, Town Hall and the Rec Center. It would come within ¼ mile of everyone in town!

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It would make RFTA a CHOICE option within Carbondale.

Frankly, that’s a choice we SHOULD make. Civic mobility is not only a key to our quality of life, it’s also a civil right.

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An in-town bus route would open doors for many who can’t bicycle, as well as for those who can’t, or shouldn’t, or don’t want to drive: the young, the old, the poor, the environmentally-conscious, the partiers who imbibe one too many. 

John Hoffmann tells me that this VelociFeeder Alternative doesn’t really require a big infusion of funding: It would run during the day, outside of commute hours, so it could be kept in sync with the busses coming into the Park-and-Ride, and it could staffed by existing drivers.

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What’s missing is a demonstration of desire. I’d sing for that cause at a RFTA meeting. If you’d like to join the chorus, drop an email.