Bus cuts coming | AspenTimes.com

Bus cuts coming

RFTA must make several significant cuts in its bus service to try to pare down a projected $478,500 deficit next year, senior staff members warned the board Thursday.

The bus operator’s revenues for operating expenses haven’t grown as expected since Sept. 11, 2001. They are anticipated to be flat next year as well, according to executive director Dan Blankenship. About one-third of RFTA’s revenues come from local sales taxes.

The plateau in revenues, combined with various small increases in expenses, is forcing the agency to look at service cuts.

“We really don’t have anywhere else to look,” Blankenship said. “We have to consider cuts in service.”

In a memo to the RFTA board of directors, the staff proposed reducing the hours that fare buses in the valley operate. Buses currently operate from 4:35 a.m. to 12:15 a.m. The proposal is to reduce hours to 6 a.m. to 12:15 a.m.

The Snowmass Village fare bus would be cut back to one run per hour between 6 a.m. and 4:15 p.m. during the winter.

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Weekend service to Rifle would be snuffed completely, and the 1 a.m. and 1 p.m. trips between Rifle and Glenwood Springs would be cut on all weekdays.

Woody Creek service would be cut for winter and summer seasons.

Some direct service between downvalley and Snowmass Village would be cut during winters.

The directors told the staff to come back with ridership numbers and show how passengers would be affected. No action was taken on the proposed service cuts.

The staff also suggested cuts in areas such as advertising, training and building repairs and maintenance. The dire financial condition will almost guarantee no cost-of-living or merit pay increases for employees in 2004 nor increases in health-care coverage, according to the draft budget.

Other savings will come from consolidating the director of planning and director of development into one position. Both positions will soon be vacant, so no one will be fired.

The budget also assumes offering less of a discount on bus passes.

The preliminary figures in the budget can be deceiving without explanations. For example, expenditures for 2004 are expected to increase by $1.2 million over 2003, leading an observer to wonder why RFTA simply doesn’t tighten its belt if revenues are flat.

But Blankenship explained that RFTA will benefit from special revenues in 2004 that are earmarked for specific uses. For example, $2 million is expected in federal grants for constructing park-and-ride lots. That grant also requires matching funds, further boosting the revenues but with restricted funds.

Up to $700,000 is also expected in grants for new buses. That grant also requires matching local funds.

Revenues were expected to increase by about $720,000 from the total estimated to come in this year. However, expenditures were estimated to increase about $1.2 million, from $16.19 million this year to $17.39 million.

The first draft of the 2004 budget anticipated revenues of $16.91 million and expenditures of $17.39 million, creating the deficit of $478,543.

Blankenship said evolving circumstances will certainly alter the outlook for the 2004 budget from this early draft.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]

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