ASPEN - Ridership on Roaring Fork Transportation Authority buses got off to a good start in 2013 thanks to the record-breaking success of the Winter X Games in Aspen, but 2012 ridership proved lackluster, statistics released Thursday show.
RFTA hauled 119,548 passengers on the four days of the X Games, Jan. 24 through 27, according to a report by John Hocker, RFTA co-director of operations.
"X Games spectators impact all of RFTA services as folks attending stay in hotels and private homes from Rifle to Aspen," Hocker wrote in a report to RFTA's board of directors. "We experience huge ridership not only on our city of Aspen, skier shuttle and Snowmass routes but also on our regional routes and our Ride Glenwood buses."
RFTA couldn't provide all of the extra buses needed for the surge in ridership. Aspen Skiing Co. contracted for 20 additional buses from outside private companies, according to Hocker.
Saturday was the busiest day at the X Games, with a record crowd estimated at 47,200. That was also the busiest day for the transportation system. RFTA said it carried 43,407 passengers that day systemwide. On the previous Saturday, 17,970 passengers were carried by RFTA buses, according to Hocker's report.
The 119,548 passengers hauled over the course of the event was a 72 percent increase over the 69,412 passengers hauled over the same days a week earlier, RFTA said.
While RFTA got a big boost for 2013 ridership, last year's ridership ended 4.44 percent down from 2011, according to figures released in CEO Dan Blankenship's monthly report to the board of directors.
RFTA hauled 4,137,905 passengers in 2011. That slipped to 3,954,226 in 2012. That is 183,679 fewer passengers.
Mild weather in January, February and March likely was a contributing factor in fewer people taking the bus, Blankenship has previously said. The worse the winter weather, the more commuters are inclined to stay out of their private vehicles, he said.
The loss wasn't a result of RFTA's bread-and-butter regional service on Highway 82. There were 1,925,185 riders last year. That's an increase of 49,805 or 2.66 percent from the prior year.
However, that gain was more than offset by losses in ridership in Aspen and Glenwood Springs. Ridership in Aspen was down almost 40,000, or 3.59 percent. There were 198,810 fewer riders on the Ride Glenwood Springs service in 2012 than in 2011, according to Blankenship's report. That was a decrease of 44.32 percent for the year.
Ride Glenwood Springs was a free service from April 2005 until April 2012, when a fare was first charged. The number of passengers dropped from 448,602 in 2011 to 249,792 last year, Blankenship's report showed.
Skico's drop in business in winter 2011-12 also is reflected in ridership on free skier shuttles. There were 16,567 fewer passengers in 2012 compared with 2011, a drop of 3.35 percent. A total of 477,498 riders grabbed the free skier shuttles last year.
RFTA's annual ridership was more than 4 million for the first time in 2006 and set a record with 4.85 million passengers in 2008. Ridership plunged 12 percent in 2009 and another 8.4 percent in 2010. It finally climbed back to more than 4 million in 2011 but now dipped again.
RFTA expects a surge in ridership after its expanded bus-rapid-transit service begins in September. Express buses that make few stops along Highway 82 will run every 15 minutes during the peak winter and summer seasons. RFTA is plowing $46 million into the expansion.