ASPEN, COLORADO (Post Time News)–Sporting cowboy boots and hat, fifth-generation Coloradoan U.S. Senator Ken Salazar appeared fashionably late at the Roaring Fork Transit Authority (RFTA) hybrid bus dedication ceremony at the Red Brick School on Tuesday July 3rd and greeted the small crowd of city officials, advocates, and press by saying “welcome to my town.”
The ceremony in celebration of the four new diesel hybrid-electric transit busses that RAFTA just put on the tracks, was apart of a 2006 grant made possible by the Alternative Transportation in the Parks and Public Lands program. The busses will hopefully help congestion caused by visitors and vehicles in the Maroon Bells and Snowmass Wilderness Area of the White River National Forest.
But real questions remain about the cost-effectiveness of the hybrids compared to more conventional RFTA vehicles in operation, according to City of Aspen Finance Director Paul Menter. He indicated that the city would gradually be replacing older diesel busses with hybrids in the years to come.
“[Hybrid buses] cost at least twice as much as those running on diesel,” Menter told Post Time News.
Menter explained that it is his job to advice the City Council on financial issues.
“Its my job to let [them] know how cost-effective certain projects while be, but in the end it is up to them to make the decisions,” Menter said. “City officials felt that the environmental benefits would outweigh the higher prices and its important to put in context the fact that this was meant as a public statement that the city supports alternative energy for transit.”
At the hybrid ceremony outside the Red Brick Center, RFTA chief executive officer Dan Blanketship expressed his gratitude for the support of RFTA’s newest project from the state and Senator Salazar.
“[This] has been a very long and somewhat complicated process,” said Blanketship. “I know that my fellow colleagues and I—or atleast I— can’t be happier that it is all coming together now and we are looking forward to a cleaner and less congested roaring fork valley in the future.”
Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland was not scheduled to make any public statements, but he jumped in right before Salazar had a chance to grab the mic.
“Its really funny what a trip to D.C can accomplish,” said Ireland. “Five minutes after meeting Ken Salazar at his office, introducing myself and telling him what I wanted, we watched him declare his support of café initiatives right there on the senate floor on C-Span.”
Senator Salazar who managed to greet and talk to everyone at the small convention before making any statements was all smiles late Tuesday afternoon.
“I admire [Aspen’s] dedication to embracing clean energy,” said Salazar. “I think politicians in Washington are really starting to wake up to environmental issues and ideas for alternative energy.”
Salazar could have also been found earlier Tuesday afternoon at the Aspen Ideas Festival where he spoke about alternative energy along with advocate Amory Lovins and others.
“Regardless of the legislation we work tirelessly on in Washington, it isn’t without the hard work of the doers in the world that change is really made,” said Salazar. “You are the ones that take ideas like those talked about at the Ideas Festival and make them happen.”
The $1.6 million grant that was used to secure the four new hybrid busses, that will operate on a 20 percent blend of bio-diesel, was made possible by Salazar. The busses will be added to the line that runs the Maroon Bells Tour.
The White River National Forest have been partners with RFTA since 1977 and are co-sponsoring the new hybrid initiative.
“[The partnership] is one of the oldest in the forest,” said newly appointed District Ranger of Aspen Sopris, Irene Davidson. “Riding the bus is simply much easier and no doubt better for the environment. We hope that these new busses will not only do good for the environment but reduce automobile traffic and make way for the hikers and bikers.”
Davidson, who was reading off some of her talking points in her notes, added that she was looking forward to meeting more of the local people around town and working along with RAFTA to start a new trend of hybrid busses in and around the valley.
In Fact, RAFTA has applied for a $3.8 million grant from 2007 funds to help purchase and maintain two additional hybrid busses and to finance new technological devices that will assist with the efficiency of RAFTA busses.
Will hybrids be the way of the future? Or is our little do-good city just playing footsie with the idea of alternative energy before someone comes up with a solution to environmentally and cost efficient vehicles?
Before being whisked away to the airport Senator Salazar said: “Aspen is leading the way in new environmentally conscious projects and I’m sure it won’t be long until other communities start to follow in your shoes.”