A new reservation-based system for buses to the Maroon Bells began on Monday. Under new regulations, visitors must use a website to book tickets in advance for a specific time slot.
“The key message is to plan ahead,” said Shelly Grail, recreation manager for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger district. “I think that's something that people maybe aren't used to. The bus system has been running for 40 years, but it’s been one that you can just show up and get your ticket and hop on the bus.”
Buses to the iconic mountain viewing point leave Aspen Highlands every 15 minutes from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. To enforce social distancing, each shuttle is limited to 15 passengers. Buses are operated by Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, as they were in previous years.
To make a reservation, people must book a time on aspenchamber.org, then check in at the Maroon Bells welcome center upon arrival. After that, attendants in the bus loading zone deliver a short briefing to waiting passengers and then help arrange them on the bus with distance between unrelated parties.
Peter Mangum, operations manager at the welcome center, emphasized the importance of preparing in advance.
“I think probably the best paradigm is it's very much like an airport,” Mangum said. So the best thing is to arrive early the same way. You shouldn't have the expectation of running to the gate before you check in.”
Mangum, who was helping brief and load passengers on Tuesday, said passenger loading and mask compliance have been going smoothly in the early days of the new system, but there were plenty of no-shows.
On the first day of the reservation system, 97 people did not arrive to take their seats on the bus. About 450 reservation spots were available that day.
Mangum said they filled the empty seats with people in a standby line, who may not have been familiar with the new reservation system. He said reservation times refer to the time the bus leaves, and people should leave time beforehand to park and check in.