BASALT - A Basalt town councilman is championing the cause of making the Roaring Fork Valley's bus fleet more bicycle-friendly, but bus system officials contend there is only so much they can do.
The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority has sort of a love/hate relationship with bicycles. On the one hand, it was one of the first transit agencies in the country to accommodate bikes. RFTA workers custom built racks in the late 1970s or early '80s so buses could haul bikes, according to RFTA President and CEO Dan Blankenship.
On the other hand, there are multiple restrictions to hauling a bike on a bus, and many drivers reportedly despise hauling bikes because of the extra hassles it creates for them.
The current buses have bike racks on the front that carry up to four bicycles. Bikes can be loaded and unloaded only at certain stops, but that includes most of the major stops. Bus riders pay an extra $2 in addition to their fare to haul a bike.
RFTA prohibits bikes from being loaded on buses when it's dark. The curfew varies with the time of year. Right now, bikes cannot be loaded on buses after 6 p.m. or before 7 a.m. During the heart of the summer, the curfew is 7:30 p.m.
Bike riders have to be able to load and unload the bike by themselves. The drivers won't help. If a rack is full, the next person waiting in line with a bike must wait for the next bus.
Summer brings the highest demand for rack space. It's popular for tourists to ride their bikes from Aspen, down the Rio Grande Trail to a destination such as Basalt, then hop a bus for transport back upvalley.
There are also local commuters who want their bicycle for transportation once they arrive at their destination town so they bring their bike with them.
Basalt Councilman Glenn Rappaport urged RFTA officials at a recent meeting to find a way to accommodate bicycles 24 hours per day, seven days per week. A lot of people rely on secondary means of transportation such as bicycles after they get off a bus, Rappaport said. The 6 p.m. curfew is too restrictive for those commuters, he said.
"We should have the nation's leading bike program," Rappaport said at a Sept. 27 meeting.
Blankenship said the transit agency wants to do what it can to get bus riders to cycle or walk to and from bus stops, both to promote fitness and to reduce the area's carbon footprint. However, loading bikes on buses presents challenges, he said.
Buses that will go into service next year as part of RFTA's expanded bus rapid transit service won't be able to carry as many bicycles as the existing buses. The expanded service, dubbed VelociRFTA, will have buses with racks that hold two bikes rather than four. The new racks will have hangars that swing down and hold the frame along with a tray for bike tires. It's designed to be a more efficient system.
"The loading and unloading of the bikes will probably be much faster," Blankenship said. That's vital to RFTA's mission because it wants to offer service that travels fast enough up and down the valley to compete with private vehicles.
While the capacity per bus will be reduced from four to two bikes, overall capacity will remain the same or even increase because VelociRFTA will feature more frequent service, Blankenship said. In other words, people who want to haul their bikes might find the rack full but buses will run more frequently so they will get additional opportunities. In addition, RFTA intends to maintain some level of "local" service with existing buses with racks that hold four bikes, he said.
In addition, Blankenship said RFTA will keep an open mind to allowing bikes to be loaded and unloaded for a longer time once VelociRFTA is operating. The new racks prevent bicycle parts from interfering with headlights, he said. RFTA just needs to make sure riders can load and unload bicycles safely at night at its stations.
"We don't want to put someone out in harm's way," Blankenship said.
RFTA isn't scheduled to begin its expanded service until September 2013 so it has time to tackle the challenges. The first of the new buses will be delivered in January.
New and improved bus stations along Highway 82 the length of the valley will have bike racks that are both covered and uncovered. RFTA will likely publish a map that shows walking and bike riding times required to reach various bus stations. The idea, Blankenship said, is to inspire people to stay out of their cars to get to the stations.