Aspen Logo
Up close of a rota bus picking up riders

Connecting the Ski Community with Local Transportation 

How the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority is leading the charge with convenience, sustainability, and community building one bus ride at a time.

Catherine Lutz

When our son was five years old, he got separated from my husband while skiing Aspen Mountain. He skied to the bottom and decided he wanted to go home. Barely old enough to carry his own gear, he walked one block to Rubey Park, boarded the Hunter Creek bus, and rode home by himself—even getting the driver to stop in front of our complex to save the extra walk from the nearby bus stop. In our mercifully brief period of panic over losing a child, we didn’t contemplate him so easily finding his way home.

That incident, along with many other feel-good stories like it, is a testament to the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA), a community bus system so safe, reliable, and ingrained in people’s everyday lives that even a five-year-old can trust it.

Operating along a 70-mile corridor from Aspen to Rifle, with spur routes in eight jurisdictions and winter shuttles to the four Aspen Snowmass ski areas, RFTA transported 4.8 million riders in 2023—a 15% increase over the previous year. More than 200 bus operators drove 5.2 million miles, picking up and dropping off passengers at 166 bus stops along 26 routes. But RFTA doesn’t just move a lot of people around. The agency’s budget bolstered by local sales tax revenues, state and federal grants, and proceeds of a property tax, among other sources—allows for multifaceted capital, technological, and creative improvements, all designed to enhance the riding experience, reduce impacts on the environment, and make RFTA a great place to work.

“We are incredibly fortunate to have the amount of public transit we have in our area,” says Jamie Tatsuno, RFTA’s communications manager. “RFTA is the largest rural transit agency in the United States and operates the first rural Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. RFTA provides a convenient way to travel around without the hassle of driving, navigating traffic, or finding parking spots.”

RFTA bus drives through downtown Aspen, with Aspen Mountain illuminated in background

RFTA bus drives through downtown Aspen, with Aspen Mountain illuminated in background

Riding RFTA is a no-brainer for visitors and locals alike...


Thanks to continuously expanding improvements, it’s never been more convenient to get to and from the mountains of Aspen Snowmass. BRT (bus rapid transit) buses run every 10 to 12 minutes during weekday commuting hours. In winter, free skier shuttles run at least four times per hour to and from the four ski areas—with drop-offs closer to the lifts than any parking. Free buses circulate in all towns in the valley from Aspen to Glenwood, and between Aspen and Snowmass Village. And RFTA’s first- and last-mile mobility grant program is making it easier for RFTA passengers to ditch their cars altogether, by funding options such as a bike share or improved pedestrian connections at the beginning and end of their journeys.

A mobile-friendly website and a ticketing app—make planning and executing RFTA rides simple and stress-free. Real-time information such as when to expect buses at stops and how crowded they are is at your fingertips, thanks to digital upgrades. Plus, newer bus stations provide ample seating and shelter, real-time signage, and some even have heaters, which come in handy in Colorado’s winter weather.

And then there’s the dedicated bus lanes. “The best thing about riding the upvalley bus is when you get to airport, it gets to pass all that traffic in the morning—it’s the most glorious feeling ever,” says Tatsuno.


If you care about the environment, riding public transit—and incorporating that into your daily routine—is one of the easiest things you can do to contribute toward reducing emissions and traffic. And the positive environmental impact of thousands of those individual choices will only accelerate as time goes on.

In 2023, RFTA adopted its first climate action plan, which aims to slash its greenhouse gas emissions by 90% by 2050, and plans to be consistent with State of Colorado goals to have 100% ZEBs operating in the State by 2050.

Key to these goals is clean electricity. Think of it this way, says Michael Miracle, senior director of community engagement at Aspen Skiing Company: “Obviously, getting cars off the road and moving people onto gas-powered buses is a net gain for the environment, because you’ve got more efficiency. Then, as more buses become electric, that benefit increases exponentially. And when you’ve done work like we have to get our electric utilities to provide renewable energy (the City of Aspen is at 100% and Holy Cross is moving toward that by 2030), those electric buses are truly green. That is representative of a system-fix approach we as a company like to have.”

The cool thing is, enough people care about sustainability goals to make it a reality, including throughout RFTA. Morgan Scott, who grew up in Glenwood Springs, has been driving for RFTA since returning to the Valley 10 years ago. She enjoys having a job that allows her to move around all day, and in particular likes driving the quiet, open roads of the Hogback route between Glenwood and Rifle. She also cares about having a meaningful job.

“Transit is really important, especially here with what’s going on with the economy—some people don’t even have cars,” says Scott, whose brother and father also worked for RFTA. “One of the best ways I can think of to help with climate change is having a good bus driver—maybe it’ll make more people ride. It’s small, but it can make a difference.”


Scott, who lives in New Castle, and her fellow RFTA employees are examples of the valleywide community that the transit agency serves, not only with rides but with stable, reliable, and increasingly well-compensated employment. RFTA raised its starting wage significantly in 2023, and benefits include a full ski pass (or equivalent cash), health insurance, and retirement plan matching.

John Ries, another of RFTA’s 200-plus drivers, initially joined the agency because of the perks. He stayed because it’s a good fit: He enjoys driving, gets along well with others, and likes to help people. After nearly 12 years on the job, he gets to pick his shifts and routes, and plenty of flex and vacation time allows him to pursue his passion: rafting Western rivers.

Simply put, “I love my job,” says Ries.

For Scott, the sense of community she gets is also a benefit. Often driving a BRT bus starting at 5 a.m. (a heavy commuter route), “by the end of the ski season I know every single person that gets on,” she says. Scott also appreciates that RFTA’s focus has broadened since she was growing up. “It feels like a whole system now instead of just a feeder for Aspen—it’s for the whole community,” she says.

And that’s what it all comes down to: RFTA brings together a broad variety of people—locals of every stripe, tourists, and part-time residents. As price barriers put more places and experiences out of reach, buses have become one of the few (like free concerts and lift lines) “where you can have casual unexpected encounters with fellow community members,” notes Miracle, adding that he sees someone he knows just about every time he gets on a bus. “And those encounters are becoming increasingly more important points of intersection for the community.”

As Miracle concludes, “Community happens on the bus.”

You May Also Like