Location: Aspen, CO
Fleet Type: Regional Transportation Authority

 

Narrative

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) is the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) for Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley, providing transit services to the communities of Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, New Castle, Silt, Rifle and portions of unincorporated Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties. With over 4 million passenger trips system-wide in 2022, RFTA is the second-largest transit agency in the state and the largest rural transit agency in the United States. For 20+ years, RFTA has been a leader amongst RTAs for its strategic planning and commitment to innovation and environmental sustainability. In 2013, the 42-mile VelociRFTA Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route between Aspen and Glenwood Springs became the first rural BRT system in the nation.

In 2019, Colorado set statewide targets to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 26% by 2025, 50% by 2030, and 90% by 2050, from a 2005 baseline. Additionally, the state adopted the Colorado Electric Vehicle (EV) Plan, recently updated in 2023, which established goals to reach 940,000 light-duty EVs and 1,000 zero-emission transit vehicles in the state by 2030. Furthermore, the plan set a target to transition 100% of its public transit fleets to zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) by 2050.

In May of 2023, RFTA completed its first Climate Action Plan (CAP). The RFTA Board of Directors adopted future emissions targets that closely align with RFTA member communities and the State of Colorado. The plan outlines goals and strategies to reduce scope 1 and 2 GHG emissions, including transitioning its entire revenue bus fleet and lighter-duty support fleet to ZEVs by 2050, electrifying facility operations by 2043, and installing a 300-kW solar PV system on its Aspen Maintenance Facility by 2030. The CAP also revealed that RFTA services can displace or offset some regional GHG emissions by offering customers more efficient travel alternatives than private vehicles.

RFTA currently operates 153 vehicles in its fleet, primarily comprised of transit buses (104), motor coaches (25), and cutaways (24). The fleet is a mix of gasoline, diesel, compressed natural gas (CNG) and battery electric buses. In 2017, RFTA and the City of Aspen began scoping the Battery Electric Bus (BEB) Pilot Project in collaboration with RFTA member communities, bus vendors, other RTAs and Holy Cross Energy. In 2019, eight New Flyer BEBs were successfully delivered and joined the revenue fleet, and four ABB dual-port 150-kW depot chargers were installed at the Aspen Maintenance Facility. The joint pilot project utilized a mix of local, state and federal funding sources. Additionally, RFTA worked closely with Holy Cross Energy to establish a time-of-use (TOU) rate tariff to provide mutual benefits to the utility and RFTA during off-peak hours. The BEBs have been successfully operating primarily on City of Aspen routes for almost four years. Lessons learned have been shared with transit peers and regional partners, and the project has yielded valuable real-world experience to the agency as it plans for future fleet electrification.

Outputs and Outcomes

In the CAP, RFTA identified that 76% of its scope 1 and 2 emissions source from diesel buses. By transitioning its entire fleet to ZEVs by 2050, RFTA estimates it can reduce its revenue fleet and non-revenue fleet GHG emissions by 92,000 metric tons and 11,000 metric tons over that same period, respectively. RFTA is currently undertaking a ZEV Transition Plan that includes modeling pathways to achieve these goals and determining what mix of ZEVs the agency will deploy, considering both battery electric and hydrogen fuel-cell electric bus (HFCEB) options. RFTA is exploring other climate action strategies to achieve GHG reductions, including the optimization of higher-ridership BRT services, retrofitting facilities with energy efficiency in mind, taking more ownership of first-last mile mobility (FLMM) solutions and working with regional planners to incentivize more compact transit-oriented development (TOD) land use patterns near transit and trail nodes.

RFTA is also a valuable resource for transit fleets, especially in mountainous regions, considering electrification projects. RFTA participated in CALSTART’s Medium- and Heavy-Duty EV Deployment Data Collection project, which aims to provide real-world comprehensive data on a diverse set of EVs across different U.S. regions. With support from the U.S. Department of Energy and Drive Clean Colorado, CALSTART tracked RFTA’s BEBs for 12 months utilizing vehicle telematics. This project has created a public database for fleet managers nationwide looking to electrify their fleets, with data on how climate, location, and usage might affect the state of charge of the battery and how to plan routes, or re-blocking, with charging (on-route vs depot). Learn more about the project here: CALSTART Medium- and Heavy-Duty EV Deployment: Data Collection.

Best Practices & Lessons Learned

RFTA credits its partners and key collaborators for the success of the innovative BEB pilot project and for supporting continued planning efforts. As with many transit electrification projects, RFTA proves the benefits of implementing a pilot project. It has allowed the agency to assess BEB performance and plan appropriately for future deployments. For example, RFTA has learned that battery-electric technology works, but the limited daily range does not allow a 1:1 operating schedule with traditional diesel buses. Given Colorado’s unique climate and geography, the BEBs were equipped with small diesel heaters to extend performance range on colder winter days. RFTA has compared notes with other mountain transit agencies and the consensus is that these heaters use very little fuel, and they greatly conserve battery life by using less electricity to heat the batteries and provide passenger heat in the cabin. RFTA is also working with the City of Aspen to install the first on-route pantograph charger to extend the BEB’s operational capacity even further.

As of October 2023, RFTA has no additional BEBs on order, but staff has recently released a vehicle procurement package with specifications for several bus styles and fuel types. Following completion of the ZEV Transition Plan in early 2024, staff will be better equipped to confidently seek grant funding opportunities to replace its diesel vehicles and expand the ZEV fleet. In the meantime, RFTA continues to collect data from its operational BEBs and model its path toward a zero-emission fleet. Additionally, RFTA is revamping the Glenwood Springs Maintenance Facility (GMF)/Regional Transit Center (RTC) to both serve future administrative needs and provide adequate charging infrastructure to expand the reach of ZEBs on higher-ridership routes and provide access to disadvantaged communities. The agency was recently awarded a Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) Office of Innovative Mobility (OIM) grant to build a new RFTA ZEV Safety & Training Program that will provide benefit to both RFTA employees as well as regional EV fleet providers that want to capitalize on specific training programs.

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RFTA Fleet Story

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