When the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) presented on initiating a bike share program in Carbondale in November 2021, the cost-benefit ratio was unconvincing in the light of more apparent needs, such as an expanded circulator service.
By contrast, RFTA and WE-cycle came before the trustees on June 28 with “a screaming deal for the town of Carbondale,” in the words of Mayor Ben Bohmfalk.
WE-cycle, a nonprofit that began in Aspen in 2013, is now in a public-private partnership with RFTA and operates bike share programs in El Jebel, Willits, Basalt and Snowmass Village, as well as Aspen.
Mirte Mallory, co-founder and executive director of WE-cycle, made clear that their program is not intended for tourists. Rather, WE-cycle provides connectivity between park and ride stations and other places without the use of a car. “For those who own bikes,” her presentation explained, “bike share does not replace the use of a personal bike but rather adds another bike option to one’s bike fleet.”
The average ride time for WE-cycle commuters is 10 minutes, with an average distance of one mile. Riding longer than 30 minutes is disincentivized through heavy fees ($5 per minute for e-bikes). For reasons of liability, ridership is restricted to persons over the age of 16.
Carbondale’s initial investment, including capital equipment and six months of service, would approximate $213,000, whereas RFTA, WE-cycle and the Elected Officials Transportation Committee would contribute $884,924. Additionally, “to help defray its share,” stated RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship, Carbondale would be eligible to apply for RFTA First/Last Mile Mobility (FLM) reserve funding that could cover up to 50% of its 2023 cost.
As noted by Bohmfalk, that’s close to a 90/10 split on a $1.1 million investment: “a good deal for the people of Carbondale.”
By 2024, with capital equipment purchased, the cost to Carbondale would drop to an estimated $129,661 increasing by 3% each year, and the town would remain eligible to apply for FLM funding for two additional years.
Regarding the FLM funds, “the message I’ve heard from fellow [RFTA] board members is that they want to see the money spent,” said Bohmfalk, Carbondale’s representative to that board. So far, he added, Basalt is the only municipality that has asked for a grant. “I feel like funding is going to be easy to achieve.”
Should Carbondale pursue an expanded circulator service instead, those costs would mostly be absorbed by the town. “Glenwood Springs and Aspen utilize local funding mechanisms to pay RFTA for their internal circulator services,” Blankenship explained. “From an equity standpoint, any additional costs of circulator services within Carbondale would need to be funded by the town and/or state and federal grants.” He estimated a cost of $800,000, not including capital. “Circulators are, by their nature, very expensive,” he added.
By popular demand, the circulator now stops at City Market, in addition to the roundabout, pool, rec center and park and ride. It does not, however, service any stops south of the roundabout.
For context, Town Manager Lauren Gister explained how Basalt’s Downtowner shuttle service is different from a circulator. The Downtowner is a private company, contracted to operate eight months of the year, in mornings and evenings on weekdays and all day on weekends. For this service, Basalt pays $400,000 per year and received FLM funds.
During public comments, Sue Zislis said that WE-cycle seems like a fabulous service for people that bike, “but there’s so many people that can’t bike,” including kids under the age of 16 that would be excluded. She urged trustees to consider a connector bus, possibly smaller than the current circulator, to serve more of the town.
Ron Kokish, representing the Carbondale Age-Friendly Community Initiative, advised that trustees wait for a master transportation plan to be finalized before investing in bike share.
“I had reservations about We-cycle several years ago,” remarked trustee Marty Silverstein. “I see it now as just one part of our overall mobility needs, with money for a consultant going to address other mobility needs.” Given the possibility of bringing down town’s costs with in-kind donations, such as WE-cycle office space, he said, “this has come down to what I consider a reasonable financial level, at least for the first three years.”
Trustee Chris Hassig expressed concern for a sudden influx of bicyclists and while supporting moving ahead with bike share desired to see safety measures in place, particularly at the Village Road intersection where the park and ride meets Highway 133.
With support of all present board members, trustee Colin Laird was absent, Carbondale came a step closer to having a bike share program beginning in June 2023.
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