CARBONDALE - Bus riders' fares covered about 28 percent of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority's operating costs on routes where a fee was charged this year, leaving about 72 percent of the expense to be subsidized, it was revealed during the agency's budget process.
RFTA covers 24 percent of its operating expenses through its farebox revenues and another 4 percent through a subsidy provided by the Elected Officials Transportation Committee, according to Dan Blankenship, the bus agency's president and CEO.
To determine the farebox recovery ratio, RFTA looked at operating expenses just for bus routes where a fare is charged. Operating expenses for bus service provided under special contracts wasn't included. For example, Aspen Skiing Co. will pay $6.51 million to provide fare-free skier-shuttle service to its four ski areas over the next four seasons. The city of Aspen also provides free buses through a service contract with RFTA.
While tea party faithful might not be impressed that fares cover 28 percent of operations of buses on routes where a fee is charged, RFTA officials are ecstatic about the figure. Urban transit systems had an average farebox recovery ratio of 20 percent in 2010, according to data from the American Public Transportation Association, Blankenship said.
Some major metropolitan transit systems cover between 40 and 50 percent of their operation costs through fares, he said.
Next year will be one of great transition for RFTA. Starting in September, it will vastly expand its fleet and its service. More buses making fewer stops will make direct routes between Aspen and points downvalley. The preliminary estimate is that it will add $2 million annually in operating expenses.
RFTA must be careful raising its fares. While that would produce more revenues, in theory, it also creates the risk of losing riders. A move designed to cover more expenses could backfire if riders perceive buses are getting too expensive.
"There's a fine balance there," Blankenship said.
RFTA's board of directors, meeting in Carbondale, approved the 2013 budget Thursday without plans to raise fares.
"We're at a fairly high level of fare for someone who commutes regularly," Blankenship said.
Bus fares are expected to raise about $3.9 million in 2013 while local government contributions raise another $1.26 million. (When the capital budget is added to the operations budget, fares account for only 7 percent of total revenues because RFTA receives millions of dollars in federal grants.)
Service contracts with Skico, Aspen and other parties will raise $8.31 million in revenues.
Sales tax and a use tax remain RFTA's bread and butter. The taxes will raise an estimated $11.17 million next year, according to RFTA's budget.