County pledges nearly $50,000 toward increasingly popular bike-share program

A popular local bike-sharing program received initial financial support on Thursday from Pitkin County for its plans to expand to Basalt next year.

Mirte Mallory, co-founder and executive director of WE-cycle, told the county commissioners that ridership again surged in 2015, with more than 21,000 rides. That’s up from 17,671 in 2014, and 10,035 in 2013, its first year operating.

With a vision to grow into downvalley communities in the next couple of years, WE-cycle is seeking partners to help fund the expansion. Mallory asked the county for $40,000 toward capital costs, and $5,000 to $10,000 annually to help cover operations.

“Pitkin County came on as a founding partner of this initiative,” Mallory said. “You were bold, you took a risk, and had a vision of what was possible. That’s because it’s aligned with Pitkin County’s goals.”

The commissioners were supportive of the program, but wary of binding future boards to an annual agreement.

The officials agreed to the capital amount, along with $7,500 toward operations for next year. But that funding is dependent on other parties granting enough so the expansion can move forward.

“Pitkin County has made the commitment, we’re just not cutting the check until we know the project is really launching,” said Commissioner Rachel Richards.

County Manager Jon Peacock suggested that since WE-cycle is essentially part of the local transit system, the funding could come from the Elected Officials Transportation Committee, which consists of the county commissioners, Aspen City Council and the Snowmass Village Town Council.

“We collect a use tax to support transit in the community, but that decision isn’t ours alone,” he said. “Would this be a broader discussion, maybe even beyond what we’re talking about in Basalt, for EOTC?”

Peacock added that the commissioners have the ability to appropriate money out of the county general fund if need be.

Commissioner Steve Child said he’d like to see long-term support from the EOTC’s budget, but was concerned that Snowmass Village wouldn’t be on board with the idea.

“I could see the town of Snowmass Village maybe balking at that,” he said. “They were reluctant to put money into the pedestrian underpass in Basalt because they didn’t see the benefit to them.”

Mallory said that around $380,000 is needed to get the program on its wheels in Basalt, including $160,000 to cover operational costs, and added that the target start date is Earth Day in April. In order to meet that goal, the infrastructure would need to be purchased in early January, she said.

Basalt Town Council supported bringing in a WE-cycle system in August, pledging $17,500 toward planning.

“Basalt really sees the need to serve the regional corridor,” Mallory said.

Eagle County, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, and the Rocky Mountain Institute have also been approached for funding. RFTA gave informal approval for $25,000 at a meeting in October.

Five stations are planned for Basalt, and four for the Willits-El Jebel area. Future plans also include implementing a system in Glenwood Springs in 2017, and Carbondale in either 2017 or ’18. Year-round service is planned for the proposed mid- and downvalley systems.

Mallory added that the Aspen Business Center, including the North 40 neighborhood and Colorado Mountain College’s Aspen campus; the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport; and Buttermilk also are potential locations for WE-cycle kiosks in 2017.

Commissioner Patti Clapper suggested the county purchase WE-cycle passes for its employees. That would be an incentive for them to take public transportation when they are temporarily relocated to Basalt during the massive overhaul and construction of county administration buildings next year.

The county gave $2,000 from its Healthy Communities Fund to WE-cycle this year, money that was used for community outreach, Mallory said.

The program was initially funded with $250,000 in public money through the federal government’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, along with local matching funds. The county gave $24,666 from an air quality impact fund in the inaugural year, and private foundations and local institutions, as well as a public “adopt-a-bike” program, covered the balance of the $500,000 in start-up capital costs.

Mallory said that to make the expanded program viable for the long haul, funding needs to be split evenly and come from sponsorships and private donations or grants; public funding or grants; and from revenues generated from passes.

“Regional planning doesn’t take place with one tool or one solution,” she said. “Much like the hub of a bike, we have a lot of different spokes that collectively make us roll.”

Survey: System popular with 
downvalley residents

The popularity of bike-share programs is growing, both in the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond.

Downvalley residents made up 43 percent of the 521 passholders in 2015, and a survey conducted this year showed that 78 percent of WE-cycle riders would use the program in other towns and cities in the valley if it was available. It also noted that 85 percent of riders would utilize the program if there were connections to RFTA buses at either end.

“It’s really showing that synergy between bus and bike, and between first and last mile,” Mallory said. “WE-cycle is an excellent complementary service to our bus service, in terms of car-pooling and car share. It fills in an important gap in terms of offering a 24-7 multimodal transportation service in the valley.”

WE-cycle is the first small-town, bike-sharing program in North America, with Aspen home to 16 stations.

Mallory said that city staff from Honolulu, Hawaii, came to Aspen this summer to check out the program and see if it could be implemented there. She added a pilot program that’s taken off in Jackson Hole, Wyo., was heavily influenced by the Aspen model.

Financial support was unanimous, and Mallory told the county board that she’d provide an update in early January.

collin@aspendailynews.com