Aspen’s traffic, parking issues boost bus ridership | AspenTimes.com

Aspen’s traffic, parking issues boost bus ridership

Riders hop on a bus bound for Aspen at the Basalt Park and Ride on Highway 82 on Wednesday. The snowy weather and icy roads had the parking lots mostly full by 8 a.m.

Bus ridership in the Roaring Fork Valley is still clipping along at a healthy pace despite falling gas prices that improve the economics of driving a personal vehicle.

Snowy weather, traffic congestion and paid parking in Aspen work to offset the cheaper prices at the pump, according to Dan Blankenship, Roaring Fork Transportation Authority chief executive officer.

"All of those things act as a brake to people piling back into cars," he said.

A nasty traffic snarl for commuters leaving Aspen on Thursday afternoon demonstrates the advantage the bus can provide. It was gridlock for private vehicles in the two lanes of Main Street. Westbound traffic was backed up to the Hotel Jerome. Buses were able to use the dedicated lane on Main Street between 3 and 6 p.m. and probably gained a 15- to 30-minute advantage getting out of Aspen, Blankenship estimated. "It works well for us," he said.

The bus agency also utilizes bus lanes in both directions between the Maroon Creek roundabout and the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport. That helps during both morning and afternoon commutes.

RFTA's expansion in 2013 also is driving higher passenger counts. The agency added park-and-ride lots, upgraded key bus stops, added more comfortable buses and increased the frequency while reducing stops on bus-rapid-transit service.

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Ridership systemwide was 4,132,995 through the end of October compared to about 3,433,108 last year over the same period, Blankenship said. That is an increase of 699,887 riders, or about 20 percent. October figures were the latest available. The statistics include buses in the Roaring Fork Valley as well as service between Glenwood Springs and Rifle.

If November and December pace at the same level as they did in 2013, it will result in about 4.85 million riders. RFTA has never topped 5 million riders in a year.

"I'm not ruling that out, but it's looking like it's going to be closer to 4.9 million," Blankenship said.

That would top the record of 4.85 million riders in 2008. RFTA hauled 4,145,000 riders last year.

The snowy weather and icy roads in the Roaring Fork Valley this week, coupled with the usual busy holidays, means RFTA will be filling buses to end the year. The Basalt Park and Ride main lot was full Monday and the overflow lot was about half full by 8 a.m. as snow fell and more vehicles pulled in. Each parking lot holds about 100 vehicles.

But last November and December were strong, as well, so that's tempering Blankenship's expectations for a record.

If it doesn't happen this year, he expects it next year. He is projecting continued growth in 2015, assuming the economy remains strong and there are good snow conditions the rest of this winter. Blankenship said RFTA could see an increase of 250,000 passengers in 2015, or between 7 to 10 percent more than this year.

scondon@aspentimes.com

rfta bus ridership

October year-to-date 2014: 4,132,995

October year-ro-date 2013: 3,433,108

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