Buses haul record 4 million riders | AspenTimes.com

Buses haul record 4 million riders

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority saw a huge jump in ridership during 2006. RFTA officials attribute the increase to many factors, including expanded bus service downvalley. (Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times)

Aspen, CO Colorado

Ridership on Roaring Fork Transportation Authority buses grew by double digits last year and topped the 4 million mark, according to Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship.

RFTA usually budgets for an annual increase of a couple of percentage points, but ridership surged 11.5 percent year-to-date through November, Blankenship said. The finally tally for 2006 isn’t yet available, but he figured RFTA buses hauled at least 4,076,000 riders.

“A number of things may be contributing to that spike,” Blankenship said. One was the strength of the economy; the valley seems to be near full employment, requiring many workers to commute.

That coincided with above-average snowfall last winter and several storms that have made travel difficult this season; icy roads force many people out of private vehicles and onto buses.

Gas prices also soared for part of 2006, making travel by private vehicle more expensive.

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But the biggest factor could be RFTA’s expanded service between Aspen and areas farther downvalley than El Jebel. Buses used to travel from Aspen to Carbondale and Glenwood Springs only once per hour. That increased to once every half-hour between 4:05 a.m. and 8:05 p.m.

The ridership increase came despite an increase in many fares in 2006. Some punch passes went up by as much as 15 percent.

Blankenship cited a rule of thumb the American Public Transportation Association quoted: A 10 percent increase in fares typically results in a 4 percent decline in riders. RFTA proved there are exceptions to that rule.

Blankenship said the agency’s ridership has climbed steadily, with the exception of Sept. 11, 2001, and the recession that struck that year. Ridership tumbled 10.5 percent in 2002 and was flat in 2003.

Ridership rebounded with a 2.7 percent increase in 2004 and a 5 percent gain in 2005 before the double-digit gain in 2006.

Blankenship said it is difficult to predict what will happen with ridership in 2007. RFTA’s goal is to see ridership increase by 2 percent annually. He said he wouldn’t be surprised to see it jump 4 to 5 percent systemwide.

RFTA did not raise fares for 2007.

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

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