City of Aspen slams on brakes with Lyft contract
December 12, 2018
After hearing harsh criticism from the local ground transportation community, Aspen City Council on Monday scrapped an $800,000 contract with Lyft to provide multimodal transit services next year as part of the city’s mobility lab.
“I’ve never heard so much objection to something that City Hall has put forward,” said Councilwoman Ann Mullins, who is in her sixth year of elected office.
She added that while the city’s three-month experiment, dubbed SHIFT, is laudable in dealing with traffic congestion and improving the environment, more communication with limo and taxi drivers is needed before approving a contract that could compete against them.
For more than two hours, commercial drivers and those who own or work in bike shops, told council that its partnering with Lyft would cut into their business, and that the contract has gaping holes in it to protect them from that happening.
Many of them complained that they haven’t been part of the process and just last week were notified about the contract, with its details becoming public over the weekend.
The contract is essentially a public-private partnership between the government and Lyft for services to be delivered from June 8 through Sept. 2.
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The city, through SHIFT, has a goal to get 800 cars off the road each day during that period with a series of incentives, like reward miles to redeem at retailers, direct shuttles that allow cars, gear and tools to be loaded in, as well as dockless e-bikes and scooters.
Bike shop owners said Lyft’s price structure for the e-bikes at $.15 cents a minute over 30 minutes of use — or $9 an hour — is far less than the minimum charge of $60 for two hours, which is what most retailers rent them for.
Ashley Perl, the city’s climate action manager, who is a point person for SHIFT, said Lyft plans to put in a stiff penalty on individuals who use the e-bikes more than a half hour.
But that’s not in the contract as it was presented and would have to be an addendum that council wasn’t comfortable with adding Monday night.
“I don’t like being handed a contract with blank spaces,” said Councilman Ward Hauenstein, adding he supports most aspects of SHIFT but this component was done hastily. “I don’t feel a decision of this magnitude can be forced upon us at the eleventh hour.”
At issue for ground transportation workers in the contract with Lyft is the ride-sharing services proposed. It would have combined carpooling and ride hailing, with the user paying a fee, subsidized by the city, based on Lyft’s existing fare platform.
The contract stipulates that the city would pay $375,000 up front for that service, as well as mini buses that would go from the Brush Creek Intercept Lot to direct destinations that would allow dogs, tools and gear.
Perl said Lyft would use local drivers and vehicles for its ride-hailing and sharing services.
But there’s nothing in the contract that specifically requires that.
Todd Gardner, who owns High Mountain Taxi, said the city continually leaves him and other ground transportation entrepreneurs out of the conversation when it comes to its plans for providing subsidized transit options.
“I think we are here because of the lack of outreach by the city,” he said, adding that he and his drivers can’t make it if they are competing against subsidized services. “It borderlines on insanity.”
Another driver explained that council should not forget that Aspen is a tourist town supported by a large service community.
“This is your family, you should consider your family first,” he said. “I have a family and I have to provide for my family.”
The city has budgeted $2.6 million for SHIFT in 2019, which will include increased bus service, a spruced-up Brush Creek Intercept Lot with food trucks, coffee carts, bathrooms and a host of alternative transportation options.
The intention of SHIFT is to understand what types of transportation services the community desires and what services warrant further investment and support as part of Aspen’s permanent transportation landscape, according to Perl.
While most of the comments were negative about Lyft’s involvement in SHIFT, council did hear a few people praise the overall project and encouraged elected officials to keep going.
Perl told council she’d go back to Lyft to see if the contract can be amended to reflect the concerns expressed about e-bikes and ride sharing competing with local businesses.
And in the meantime, council directed her to meet with the local ground transportation industry to find out ways it can participate in SHIFT.
In other council news, elected officials continued their review of the proposed Lift One Corridor project, which includes two new lodging properties: the Lift One Lodge and the Gorsuch Haus. Combined, they would provide 185 new lodge keys, including 104 in the Lift One Lodge timeshare project and 81 in Gorsuch Haus as a traditional hotel.
Public comment as of press time had both proponents and opponents of the project speaking in front of council.