WE-cycle transit system gets a big push from RFTA
An upvalley bicycle transit system that is rolling into its fifth year got a big boost Thursday from the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority that could help the program eventually expand to Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and perhaps beyond.
The RFTA board, gathered for its monthly meeting in Carbondale, unanimously agreed to enter a five-year partnership with the Aspen-based nonprofit WE-cycle, which operates a paid bike-share program in Aspen and Basalt.
As part of the deal, the RFTA board said it would be willing to commit at least $100,000 per year during that term, subject to annual budget approval. RFTA was a founding partner for WE-cycle, and is currently providing $35,000 to help fund the bike-share effort.
“WE-cycle has become a valuable component of the valley’s transportation system and is used primarily by Roaring Fork Valley residents for short in- and around-town travel to get from home to the bus, from the bus to work … or to run errands,” RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship said in recommending that the intergovernmental board up its support for the program.
As it stands, WE-cycle has 190 bikes located at 43 different stations in Aspen and spread between old-town Basalt, Willits and El Jebel. It has been exploring expansion into Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.
The system operates between May and November, allowing riders to pay per ride or buy multi-ride punch passes or a $50 season pass to get to and from certain points along the system.
A recent survey of WE-cycle pass holders found that 69 percent use the bikes in conjunction with RFTA’s valleywide and local bus routes for commuting, and 80 percent use WE-cycle to get to or from bus stops, according to Mirte Mallory, executive director for the program.
The pass holder survey showed that 54 percent also use a special integrated transit app on their phone to reserve bikes and coordinate with bus schedules.
WE-cycle has grown from a little more than 10,000 in its first year operating in Aspen in 2013 to more than 38,500 riders last year, which was the first year the bike-share operated in Basalt.
The organization’s $402,912 operating budget for 2016 included $186,661 in private sponsorships, or 46 percent of the total budget, including a title sponsorship from Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s Realty.
A multiyear funding commitment from RFTA represents a first for WE-cycle, and goes a long way to put the organization on solid footing going forward, Mallory said.
“They are in need of ongoing resources that they can rely on, so they’re not having to be as concerned to keep it going from year to year,” Blankenship said, adding that RFTA’s support could help leverage other long-term public and private funding.
“WE-cycle will not be in a position to expand to other communities, unless they have sufficient resources to do what they are already doing today,” he said.
At the request of Glenwood Springs officials, WE-cycle looked at expanding the program to Glenwood in advance of the Grand Avenue bridge detour this year. However, it would have been cost prohibitive, and the ramp-up time would have been too short, the study determined.
Glenwood, as well as Carbondale and possibly New Castle remain interested in having WE-cycle operate in their jurisdictions in the future.
WE-cycle has also stepped up its outreach where it does operate, especially in the Latino community through its Movimiento En Bica program in partnership with the Valley Settlement Project and English in Action.
The program has 75 participants, mostly in the Basalt/El Jebel area, and the goal is to get to 1,000 rides this year through the outreach effort, Kellyn Wardell, program manager for WE-cycle, said.
Blankenship said RFTA considers WE-cycle to be key in getting bus riders the “last mile” to and from bus stops. Several WE-cycle stations are located at Bus Rapid Transit stops, and 24 of 43 stations systemwide are within 300 feet of a RFTA bus stop.
RFTA provided initial capital investments for WE-cycle of $40,000 for the Rubey Park station in Aspen and $50,000 for the Basalt BRT station. It has also committed $50,000 to locate a WE-cycle station at the 27th Street BRT station in Glenwood when the time comes.
The transit organization’s operational funding commitment to WE-cycle has grown from $20,000 in 2015 to $35,000 this year.