The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority has received mostly positive comments from riders about its expanded service, but it will evaluate the primary gripe to emerge over the past six weeks and assess if changes need to be made, CEO Dan Blankenship said Friday.
RFTA’s expansion with its VelociRFTA service Sept. 3 has drastically increased the frequency of buses traveling between Glenwood Springs and Aspen. Buses will run even more frequently — every 10 minutes — once the winter schedule kicks in after Thanksgiving.
The frequency of buses gets high marks. One rider, who didn’t want to give her name, said she can miss a bus now and not worry about waiting for 30 minutes for another opportunity.
The speed of the trip is also generally getting high marks. VelociRFTA buses make fewer stops, and they don’t stray far off Highway 82, so the travel time is competitive with personal vehicles. An Aspen Times reporter timed the trips upvalley and downvalley Wednesday. The trip from the El Jebel Park and Ride to Rubey Park in Aspen took slightly more than 37 minutes. The trip from Rubey Park to El Jebel clocked in at just less than 33 minutes. Neither trip was at peak rush hour, so it could take longer during heavier traffic.
Blankenship said he is pleased with those times. The agency set a “running time” of 55 minutes between Glenwood Springs and Aspen. That proved to be a little too optimistic, so it’s been adjusted to 60 minutes.
On the upvalley trip, the bus waited at the traffic signal at Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road to make the left turn into the Intercept Lot, and then it circled around the passenger area — where no one was waiting — and proceeded back to the intersection to pull back onto Highway 82. The maneuver took about three minutes.
The diversion into the Intercept Lot is the top complaint RFTA receives about the new service, Blankenship said. The bus stop at Brush Creek and Highway 82 is important to RFTA’s operation. Its use will jump significantly this winter as the transfer point between people traveling between Aspen and Snowmass Village, he said. Therefore, the diversion into the Intercept Lot “isn’t going to go away,” said a memo from Blankenship to the RFTA board of directors.
However, there’s a possibility that VelociRFTA buses could pull into the Intercept Lot only when it coincides with the arrival of connecting buses from Snowmass Village, he said.
One thing is certain: No changes will be made in haste.
“I get suggestions on a daily basis — ‘You should be doing this’ or ‘You shouldn’t be doing this’,” Blankenship said.
He’s urging riders and drivers to be patient. RFTA is collecting data on ridership numbers and travel patterns and will make adjustments after collecting and assessing the information for about one year, he said. Any changes will be thought through carefully.
“We can’t just change on a dime,” Blankenship said.
RFTA already is adding service when needed at peak times. For example, the VelociRFTA buses — which feature a dinosaur — often fill after departing Glenwood Springs and Carbondale before they arrive in El Jebel and Basalt during morning rush hours. RFTA has buses on standby that take over the route. That frees the full bus to head straight upvalley.
Next year is the first full year that VelociRFTA gets absorbed into RFTA’s standard operations. The expanded service, which also replaces some of the prior service, will increase the miles that buses are on the road from 3.9 million to 4.6 million. That’s a boost of 18 percent. Driver hours will increase 7.5 percent.
The budget for transit operations will increase from an estimated $22.88 million this year to $24.92 million in next year’s budget. That is an increase of $2.04 million or 9 percent.