CARBONDALE — The free Carbondale Circulator Bus will begin official operations on Dec. 14, offering rides every 15 minutes to get people from downtown to the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) park and ride lot at the intersection of Highway 133 and Village Road at the north end of town.
The free Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) Circulator buses are scheduled to run every 15 minutes, from 5 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., on a loop route that comes in from Highway 133 on Main Street, turns north on Sixth Street, west on Colorado Avenue, and south on 8th Street to return to Main and get back out to Highway 133, where it will head north to the park and ride lot.
The Circulator system, which RFTA designed as a “shuttle” according to an emailed announcement of the new service, will probably start out using the agency’s 40-foot “low-floor” buses that are quieter and less obtrusive than the bigger buses.
The Circulator is scheduled to make four stops in downtown Carbondale — at the municipal pool across Main from the U.S. Post Office, the Carbondale Rec Center on Colorado Avenue, the dual stops close to the Subway shop on Main near Highway 133, and the park and ride lot.
Additional commuter parking is being provided by the town, at the large unpaved lot on the northeast corner of Colorado Avenue and Fourth Street, and RFTA officials have issued notices that the old bus service, featuring Locals that make the trip through the downtown area, will no longer be running.
“You must get on the free Carbondale Circulator” to make the connection between the center of town and the park and ride lot, according to the announcement
At the Dec. 10 meeting of the board of trustees, longtime resident and RFTA rider Joanne Teeple showed up to tell the trustees that recent RFTA service has been marred by late arrivals, long waits for passengers and other problems.
Although gratified to learn of the Circulator bus, Teeple said, RFTA’s Carbondale service has been plagued by problems lately that make her worry about the reliability of the Circulator, and doubt the wisdom of switching to a new bus system in Carbondale.
“Many of us are disgruntled, disgusted, even,” Teeple said, “that you’re taking options away” by changing a transit system that has worked well for decades, in favor of the new Circulator.
She said frequent RFTA riders like her are worried that small delays of the Circulators, or unanticipated problems that slow the BRT buses down, may result in long wait times for commuters.
“We’re looking at an extra 40 minutes a day commute time,” she said, referring to the potential for missed connections, late buses and other difficulties.
Trustee Pam Zentmyer suggested the town ask RFTA to delay switching to the new Circulator system, an idea the other trustees endorsed.
But Mayor Stacey Bernot, after exchanging emails with RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship on Tuesday night, and talking with him by phone on Wednesday, informed fellow trustees that a delay is not likely to happen.
“RFTA is unable to modify the Circulator Bus rollout for a number of reasons,” Bernot wrote in an email to the trustees and Town Manager Jay Harrington. She explained that the winter schedule for RFTA begins on Saturday, the paper schedules have been printed and distributed and driver shifts have been set for the season.
On a related point, several trustees wondered why RFTA had only addressed transit service to the center of town, and not to the south end of Carbondale where numerous regular riders live.
Blankenship, said Wednesday that the system could be expanded, but that it would cost the town as much as $500,000 a year or more, just as it costs the governments in Glenwood Springs, Snowmass Village and Aspen to pay for circulator service.
Acknowledging that the startup of the Carbondale Circulator route has encountered some rough spots, Blankenship said the overall, valleywide system will provide better service once it has settled into normal operations and everybody is used to it.
“There are a lot of ways that people can use the system to their advantage, once they understand how to use it,” he said. “It’s going to take some time.”
Blankenship said that the mayor invited him to attend the board of trustees work session on Dec. 17 to talk about the issue, and he plans to be there.