The pope would get a free ride in Aspen |

The pope would get a free ride in Aspen

If the new pope ever visits Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley, he won’t need the Popemobile to get around.

Pitkin County Commissioner Michael Owsley noted at a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board of directors meeting Thursday that Pope Francis is a clear supporter of mass transit. News reports said that when Francis was a cardinal in Argentina, he gave up his chauffeur and regularly took the bus to work.

Other reports said that after he greeted crowds Wednesday at Vatican City upon being named pope, Francis declined a ride in the papal car and instead took the bus back to his hotel to pay his bill and pack his bags.

Owsley told the other RFTA directors that the pope’s example bodes well for mass transit. He wants to reward that behavior.

“If we could, I’d like to send him a pass,” Owsley said. The pass he referred to was a free pass for rides on the Roaring Fork Valley’s renowned bus system. The other board members chuckled in agreement. They left it to RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship to get the pass to the pope.

In other RFTA action Thursday:

• The board voted unanimously to retain Aspen attorney Paul Taddune as a contract attorney for at least the rest of the 2013. Taddune worked for RFTA’s predecessor organization for 12 years and is well-versed on transit issues, according to Blankenship. Taddune stepped into the role as RFTA attorney after the organization fired Walter Matthews IV abruptly in an executive session in October. The firing was “for cause” and no specific reason has been given. RFTA’s board continues to hold executive sessions on personnel matters involving Matthews.

Blankenship said Taddune has billed RFTA an average of $10,800 per month, which equates to about $130,000 per year. He noted that is cheaper than the salary, benefits package and travel allowance that Matthews received, which totaled close to $165,000 per year.

• The board indicated that it wants to set standard requirements that developers must meet before new bus stops will be established. The criteria will include a certain amount of density as well as safety.

RFTA currently engages with developers on a case-by-case basis. Developers sometimes portray the talks as RFTA endorsement of their projects.

“Why, in the case of a new development application, are we marching in on the side of the developer saying ‘We’ll serve this’?” RFTA board chairwoman Jacque Whitsitt asked.

RFTA’s pledge to provide service has become a “political hot potato” in cases such as the old Sander’s Ranch site, now known as River’s Edge, at Cattle Creek and Highway 82, Whitsitt said.

RFTA staff will work on the requirements that developers must meet before the bus agency will consider service. The goal is to implement them later this year.

• Extremely busy times on RFTA buses during the Winter X Games in January couldn’t boost ridership for the month over the prior year. RFTA provided 524,180 rides system-wide during January, down 31,276, or 5.63 percent, from January 2012, according to a report by Blankenship.

That continues last year’s trend. RFTA provided 3,954,226 rides in 2012. That was down 4.44 percent from 4.14 million passengers in 2011.

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