Strapped RFTA may hike fares | AspenTimes.com

Strapped RFTA may hike fares

Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

CARBONDALE – Higher bus fares might be another way that the recession hits Roaring Fork Valley residents in the pocketbook this year.

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority is considering a fare hike of between 10 and 30 percent. CEO Dan Blankenship and his staff recommended that the board of directors approve a fare increase of $1 per zone. The current $3 fare to travel between Aspen and Basalt, for example, would increase to $4.

The fare hike would affect punch passes as well as cash required while boarding the bus. The percentage of the fare hike would vary by zone but it would be 22 percent on average, according to Blankenship.

The board of directors will hold a public hearing on the fare increase at their meeting at 8:30 a.m. Thursday in Carbondale Town Hall. (The closest bus stop to Town Hall is at the Carbondale pool, about three blocks away.)

RFTA is looking at ways to shave expenses and boost revenues because of economic tough times. Sales tax collections have plummeted among the governments that belong to the bus agency. That includes all towns between Aspen and New Castle as well as Pitkin and Eagle counties.

“Through April 2009, sales tax revenue appears to be down by approximately 24 percent below budget,” Blankenship’s memo to the board said. RFTA anticipates having a $808,000 operating deficit by the end of the year and it must pay about $575,000 as part of a matching grant for eight new buses. Its total shortfall by year’s end will be about $1.38 million – an amount officials said can be covered by reserves.

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The bus agency has avoided layoffs and wage freezes thus far. The proposed fares increase would add $132,194 in revenue if implemented this fall. But an increase in revenue would come with a loss in RFTA’s mission to reduce the number of private vehicles on the road. The staff’s analysis estimated that a 22 percent average fare increase would result in a 9 percent drop in ridership.

RFTA will also hold a public hearing Thursday on three service cuts that Blankenship called “relatively minor” in his memo to the board of directors. Midday service on the Grand Hogback service between Glenwood Springs and towns to the west would be cut through the end of the year. Direct express buses would be reduced during the fall for a second cut in service. The third piece would be a delay in starting winter high-season service by two weeks. The net savings in 2009 would be about $147,000.

“Staff believes the impacts on riders of these reductions will be minimal and recommends that the Board approve these measures at the July 9 meeting,” Blankenship’s memo said. He noted that RFTA could avoid making the cuts “if the economy shows signs of improvement prior to the fall season.”

scondon@aspentimes.com

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