New ridesharing apps aim to cut Colorado skier traffic on I-70

Their stories are the same.

Halfway through a four-hour crawl on the tracks, they took a look at the bumper-to-bumper traffic on Interstate 70.

“I felt so stupid to be on I-70, driving myself in my car and looking at other drivers alone or with empty seats,” said Erwin Germain.

“All the cars had one person. We were like, “This is crazy,” said Lizzie Templeton, who in the next few weeks will be launching a new ridesharing app to help put more skiers in fewer cars.

Germain is also launching a new app, just like another company. The three new carpooling apps are the latest attempt to ease winter weekend traffic obstructing the mountain corridor that connects the Front Range to the ski slopes.

“It just seems the most practical and feasible thing to do, doesn’t it?” Said Templeton, whose decision to create it Caravan carpooling application last year solidified when she saw five people, all in their own cars, walk out of her Denver apartment complex to go skiing on a Saturday morning.

Ski traffic on I-70 has been a problem for many years, worsening as the Front Range population grows and resorts along the interstate sell a record number of season passes. Ten years ago, the Colorado Department of Transportation had 4.3 million cars passing through the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels from December through April. Last year, the agency counted 5.1 million cars passing through tunnels, down from the 2017-18 winter record of 5.7 million.

Carpooling is the easiest and fastest way to reduce this congestion – at least easier than adding tracks or building a train.

But creating a carpooler app has been a real challenge for Germain and Templeton. The two entrepreneurs attempted to launch their apps in 2019, but ran into state laws and Goliaths Uber and Lyft ridesharing.

TreadShare co-founder Erwin Germain gets into his vehicle on Tuesday, October 12, 2021, near Frisco. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

that of Germain Treadshare application received a letter of cease and desist from the state. The manufacturer of Gondola, another ridesharing app for skiers, has also been ordered to stop registering users.

“I didn’t think we were competing for Uber or Lyft, but I guess they did,” said Germain, who launched Treadshare in December 2019 and received a letter from the Department of Finance a month later. regulatory agencies warning him that he violated state laws requiring Public Service Commission Permits for transportation network companies.

The letter “took us all by surprise,” said Margaret Bowes, whose Coalition I-70 brings together more than 28 cities and counties along the corridor with the aim of reducing traffic congestion on the highway.

So Bowes went to the lawmakers. And they have been “extremely responsive,” she said.

Within a few months there was a bill. In April, Colorado had a new law authorizing carpooling for internet applications without the required clearances and regulations for heavy goods vehicles like Uber and Lyft. The law has safeguards to keep carpooling out of the billion-dollar app-based ridesharing industry. Carpool drivers are limited to six passengers, who only pay enough to cover the costs. They are limited to one round trip per day. And each trip should cover at least 23 miles.

Where does this number come from? Uber and Lyft didn’t want ridesharing apps to compete with their apps, Bowes said, but the ride-sharing giants saw the legislative pressure to carpool skiers and negotiated a compromise. They settled for 23 miles, as that’s about the distance from Morrison Park & ​​Ride to the nearest ski area, Echo Mountain.

The I-70 coalition says removing about 400 cars per hour from the freeway during rush hour will reduce stop-and-go congestion. It won’t necessarily happen with ridesharing apps, but it’s a tool to get things done on I-70.

There are new public transportation options provided by the Colorado Department of Transportation, such as the Bustang service from Denver to Glenwood Springs, Gunnison and Steamboat Springs as well as a new Bustang Outrider service connecting Grand Junction to Telluride and Durango. Campaigns direct skiers to off-peak hours, such as Thursdays and Mondays. The Colorado Department of Transportation earlier this month unveiled its new website and a new mobile app for travelers to better plan their trips.

The ski slope reduction campaign was progressing in 2019. The resorts offered parking incentives to cars full of skiers. Community campaigns encouraged people to travel during off-peak hours, offering discounts on accommodation on Thursdays and Sundays.

“We had made real progress, but we took really big steps back during COVID,” said Al Thereforeroth, boss of Arapahoe Basin, where four-person cars have free parking closest to elevators.

It wasn’t just drivers reluctant to race their cars during the pandemic. Automation in resorts – which accelerated during the pandemic, replacing the need for staff like parking attendants – made it difficult to reward drivers and passengers who carpool. Today, the momentum towards carpooling has stalled.

“We’re going to have to start over, I’m afraid,” Thereforeroth said.

Breckenridge, one of the busiest ski areas in the United States, is offering a parking reduction of $ 5 this season for cars carrying four or more people.

Vail Resorts has four ski areas along the I-70 corridor, including Breckenridge, which receives approximately 5 million skier visits per year and the operator is a member of the I-70 coalition. The company supports initiatives to reduce congestion on the freeway, a company spokeswoman said.

A spokesperson for Copper Mountain said the resort has yet to hear about carpool incentives for the upcoming ski season. Powdr, owner of Copper Mountain, strongly promotes RTD’s bus service from Boulder to its Eldora ski area near Nederland, where limited parking has forced the ski area to turn away visitors on busy weekends.

Germain created his Treadshare app to reflect BlaBlaCar in France, the world’s busiest carpooling travel app, which recorded 50 million passengers in 2020. He grew up in France using the app.

He adapted the app to Colorado, with a focus on skiers. Drivers must follow Colorado traction laws requiring all-season tires or all-wheel drive. Drivers are requested to carry emergency winter gear in case they get stuck. Eventually, Germain said, he sees his app working for carpoolers hoping to run errands statewide. (Its business model involves taking a commission from each transaction to cover operating costs, but the app is free for passengers and drivers.)

Templeton’s Caravan app allows passengers and drivers to view their respective social media accounts. All apps require drivers to charge expenses only. Drivers are allowed to adjust their own rules for vaccinations or passenger masks.

The trio of new apps marks the first large-scale carpooling goal for the I-70 corridor. The progressive steps towards traffic reduction aim at a more ambitious goal of getting more mountain travelers to move towards sustainable transport. When mountain communities complain about the growing impact of travelers, much of the concern centers on cars.

“Even as we improve the I-70, there are only a limited number of cars that mountain resort communities can handle,” Bowes said. “They’re limited by how much land they want to dedicate to road widening and parking. So we really have to work in the short and long term to get people out of their vehicles and have a transportation system. sustainable with fewer cars. ”

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