New app places 
valley travel in palm of your hand

 

App integrates bus travel with bike-sharing system

A new transit application aimed at helping locals and tourists navigate the Roaring Fork Valley by bus or shared bicycle, offering an easier way to plan, pay and pedal while relieving congestion on area roads, is being tested in Aspen.

Transit App is designed to integrate bike-share systems with public transportation, allowing users to map their desired route using real-time bus schedule information, unlock a WE-Cycle bike with a mobile access code, and pay for the trip — all on their smart phone.

Mirte Mallory, co-founder and executive director of WE-Cycle’s Aspen chapter, went before the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board Thursday morning to discuss the program and ask that RFTA continue its financial support.

The new app is the first of its kind in North America, she said, inviting the RFTA board to download the program on their smart phones.

“You can all download it today, and you can open your location and see exactly what buses are coming that will take you where you need to go,” Mallory told the board. “It will tell you which bike-share stations are adjacent, and you can check out a bike remotely from your phone, so you no longer need to use a pass.”

PBSC Urban Solutions manufactures the shared bikes, supplying them to numerous cities in the United States and Canada, as well as London, Melbourne, Australia, and Guadalajara, Mexico.

All told, PBSC has nearly 45,000 bikes and 3,500 stations worldwide.

In a recent statement, Luc Sabbatini, PBSC chief executive officer, said users will “be able to plan your route, pay for the bike, and off you go.

“It can’t get any simpler than that,” Sabbatini said. “We are so pleased to debut this new bike-share functionality with the WE-Cycle bike-share system in Aspen.”

The free Transit App is available in the iTunes store, and functions in 109 different metropolitan areas across the world.

Mallory said the app will provide a more efficient and reliable way to travel in the valley, adding that a poll showed that 85 percent of respondents would be more inclined to ride RFTA if there were WE-Cycle stations to take them the last mile.

She also said in an email Friday that WE-Cycle is closing in on 20,000 rides this year, including 526 season passholders — a 22-percent increase from last season. The 2015 season ends on Nov. 1.

“Over the last three years … we have had over 46,000 rides, 7,000 riders ... and we are on track to have doubled our ridership from the first year,” Mallory said. “We’re thrilled with that ridership and engagement, but more importantly we are thrilled with the connectivity to transit that has been created for the WE-Cycle system.”

Branching out

WE-Cycle now has 100 bicycles at 16 stations in and around Aspen, but plans to expand to Basalt and Willits next year, and Carbondale and Glenwood Springs after that.

If the program catches on in Glenwood before construction begins on the new Grand Avenue Bridge in 2017, it could help thin some of the expected gridlock from the massive project, Mallory said.

“In Glenwood, we could facilitate access around the Grand Avenue Bridge closure by providing an alternative way to get around [it] during the inconvenience,” she said. “And we can provide connectivity to the 27th Street [park and ride] station.”

In addition, the Basalt Town Council has been working with WE-Cycle staff to determine the best locations to place docks. Mallory said plans are for “micro-stations” in residential areas; a full station near the Rocky Mountain Institute on Midland Avenue; another at the park-and-ride on Highway 82, as well as near the town’s post office and library; and a dock at Arbaney Park.

In Willits, stations would likely be placed at the El Jebel Road and Crawford area; at the El Jebel park-and-ride; and possibly another near Whole Foods. Micro-stations would also be placed in residential areas.

“Our goals for 2016 are to strengthen the seam of connectivity to the RFTA system to increase bus and bike ridership,” Mallory said. “Together, we win. More bikes means more people accessing the buses by bike [increasing RFTA ridership], and keeping cars off of Highway 82.”

She added that WE-Cycle helps to keep pressure off of the park-and-ride stations, which are often filled up during the week.

The RFTA board agreed to fund $25,000 toward the current WE-Cycle system, but held off on guaranteeing funding toward the Basalt expansion until more details are fleshed out.

Carbondale Mayor Stacey Bernot quipped that, in Carbondale, people simply borrow each others bikes and eventually return them to their owners. She said WE-Cycle is a much better option.

“Stacey, this is the evolution of that model of borrowing bikes and returning them,” said Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron. “It’s taking something organic and making it into a real transit alternative.”

He added that, when visiting other cities, utilizing a bike-sharing program is now an expectation.

“I see real value in this,” Skadron said. “As a transit organization focused on transit alternatives, I think it’s a logical extension of what RFTA does.”

 Dan Blankenship, RFTA’s chief executive officer, said his staff is supportive of funding the Basalt project, but they wanted to gauge the board’s response before making anything concrete.

He said the program is a benefit for the entire community, but that the challenge will be to identify a public source of funding as the service grows.

Blankenship suggested a visitor-benefit fee levied on attractions and lodging in the area.

“The visitor benefit fee is authorized under the regional transportation authority law. I don’t know what is needed, but there’s actually 2 percent that can be levied,” he said. “The nexus there with tourism is people could come and stay in Glenwood Springs, and do everything Glenwood has to offer, and ride around on WE-Cycle there. Then hop on a BRT bus, go to any of the communities along the line, hop off and jump on a bike. … I think people would really love that.”

collin@aspendailynews.com