RFTA should avoid bus fare increase
July 8, 2009
The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s board of directors on Thursday will consider proposals for raising fares on the valley’s bus system from between 10 to 30 percent this fall. We believe all proposals should be rejected.
We understand RFTA is facing a tough time because of declining sales tax revenues. It is commendable and responsible for the staff and directors to seek ways to improve the agency’s bottom line – but not at the expense of its riders.
The staff’s recommendation was to raise fares between Aspen and various towns in the valley by $1 across the board, producing an average increase of 22 percent. By applying industry standards, the staff determined that an increase of that size would result in a 9 percent decrease in ridership. In other words, nearly one in 10 riders would ditch the bus and many would take personal vehicles.
That price is too steep to pay. RFTA should not take action that has a serious, negative impact on its core mission – to get private vehicles off Highway 82.
Workers in the valley have already been hit hard by the recession. Many people have lost jobs or settled for less desirable positions. Even more workers who have retained their jobs have faced wage cuts, furloughs, and losses of benefits. To sock bus riders with a fare increase at this time is hitting below the belt.
RFTA’s staff also recommended what it called “relatively minor” service cuts starting in the fall. These should be used sparingly, but there is room for alterations to RFTA’s aggressive bus routing.
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If selective service cuts aren’t enough, then the bus agency must examine all other possible cost-cutting measures, up to and including its staffing levels. No one wants to promote trimming a person’s job. However, if demand has tailed off enough that the agency can cut service, then it follows that RFTA can get by with fewer employees in the offseason and possibly the winter. To its credit, RFTA has built ample financial reserves, so there is no immediate crisis.
RFTA has a lot of dedicated bus drivers, mechanics, supervisors and other employees who have helped create one of the top rural bus agencies in the country. The employees were rewarded for their hard work with raises this year, which were approved in last fall’s budget cycle before the extent of the recession was completely apparent.
Starting this fall, the bus agency’s staff might be required to make the same sacrifices that so many other workers in the valley have made this year.