If Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud and her colleagues from the Rolling Forks region waited for the government of Colorado to approve their plans for a regional transit service, things might not have worked out the way they did.
As it currently stands the Rolling Forks Transit Authority – which was at last made official in the mid 1990’s – is the second largest mass transit system in the entire state behind Denver. More than 3.2 million people use the RFTA service each year to commute between communities in the corridor, and to get to jobs which are overwhelmingly within the resort of Aspen.
Klanderud visited Whistler, Pemberton and Squamish last week to talk about transportation issues and explain how communities in the Rolling Forks region took the bull by the horns in implementing its own bus service at a time when state government still didn’t recognize the need or potential for transit in rural communities.
The situation is similar to Whistler, said Klanderud, where a growing number of resort employees now live outside the municipality in Pemberton and Squamish, and local governments are seeking to establish their own transit authority.
The commuter service between Pemberton and Whistler was approved before the B.C. government froze funding levels for B.C. Transit, and receives almost equal funding from the province under an approved formula. The rest of the costs are shared between the farebox, and equal contributions by local governments.
For the past two winters Whistler and Squamish have also collaborated on a pilot commuter service between the two communities that was more popular and cost-effective than either community had hoped for. Armed with rider numbers and the endorsement of local governments in Whistler, Squamish and the regional district, the communities are putting together a report to present to the province in the hope that the province, through B.C. Transit, will provide funding.
Klanderud’s message to the people who attended the Whistler meeting was ‘don’t wait’. Before there was an official Rolling Forks Transit Authority, with taxation powers awarded by the state government, there was the Rolling Forks Transit Agency formed by Aspen and bedroom communities down the highway. Communities voluntarily agreed to fund the service, with the help of a contribution from the Aspen Ski Company.
"The agency was elected officials, the ski companies, and before we did anything we went out to talk to other businesses in the communities to find out what their needs are," said Klanderud. "We did our homework. In the end the communities in the corridor contributed to the service because they wanted to, not because they had to – until the authority was formed and we had funding through taxes."