Bus

RFTA and Aspen Skiing Co. are partnering to create a new bus line between between the Brush Creek Park and Ride and Aspen Highlands, which will run on weekends only.

A new public transportation service paid for by the Aspen Skiing Co. will make getting to Aspen Highlands easier, at least on the weekends.

The Flyer, as the new service is dubbed, will run every 20 minutes in the mornings and afternoons between the Brush Creek/Highway 82 Park and Ride and Highlands, beginning Dec. 21. The line will run on Saturdays and Sundays only, though officials will look at adding capacity on weekdays if the service proves popular. 

The new service is a result of SkiCo looking at ways to alleviate what can be a challenging transportation picture at Aspen Highlands, where an onsite paid parking garage often fills to capacity in the mornings on busy weekend days.

While there is good bus service between the Aspen core and Highlands, getting there from Snowmass or downvalley of the roundabout can be more difficult, if trying to use RFTA. In response, more Highlands-bound skiers had been parking at Buttermilk and taking a SkiCo shuttle that runs to Highlands. 

SkiCo officials called a meeting with RFTA following the 2018-’19 ski season to discuss ways to alleviate the parking crunch.

“The Buttermilk mountain manager was concerned because people park at Buttermilk and take that shuttle the SkiCo provides to go to Highlands, so essentially he loses parking for his guests,” said RFTA’s co-director of operations Kent Blackmer.

Long a proponent of getting more use out of the Brush Creek/Highway 82 Park and Ride, Blackmer said he is excited for a service that will make the parking area more attractive for skiers. It has been growing in popularity with Aspen-bound commuters, he noted.

“With BRT, a lot of people have figured out that even if they don’t catch the bus out of their point of origin, that we have such high frequency out of Brush Creek and Highway 82 that it’s only a matter of minutes before they are able to hop in and get a bus into town,” Blackmer said. Those buses have “the decided advantage of the bus lanes as opposed to being stuck in general purpose traffic.”

The Flyer, which will run between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays only, will also make use of the bus lane. The RFTA buses will also stop at the airport, Buttermilk and Truscott. Service will run every 20 minutes between 7:30 a.m. and 10:50 a.m., then slow down in the middle of the day to every 40 minutes. It will ramp back up to every 20 minutes starting at 2:10 p.m. until the last run at 5:30 p.m., according to aschedule on the RFTA website.

SkiCo spokesman Jeff Hanle confirmed that discussions are underway about adding more service between Brush Creek and Highlands on weekdays or on Friday but that any solid plan is still a “long way out.”

“We will start with The Flyer as advertised,” Hanle said. “If it looks like we need to expand, we will look at the options.” Those could include adding more service through RFTA or using company-branded shuttles, if it’s determined that there is demand for weekday/Friday service.

RFTA is nearing its peak-season capacity, with bus service ramping up starting on Thanksgiving weekend. With the skier shuttles — paid for by SkiCo — connecting Aspen, Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass, the transportation provider can add buses to meet the highest demand during the Christmas week.

Those skier shuttles add tremendously to RFTA’s ability to move people around the upper valley and contribute to Aspen’s status as a world-class destination, Blackmer said. 

“Ya, Vail is a great, big mountain, but you have everyone piled into one place,” he said. “By virtue of having these four separate disparate mountains we are able to spread out the crowds. But in order for that to have the kind of network that makes it a cohesive place, we have got to have this transportation system. So I think it’s been a credit to the ski company and the elected officials to recognize that and really be supportive of mass transit that so we can be this premier area. And some of that is driven by the geographic makeup, but having recognized that, we provided that connectivity.”

Curtis Wackerle is the editor of Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at curtis@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @CurtisWackerle.