A boost in riders | AspenTimes.com

A boost in riders

Just in case it escaped your notice, the Roaring Fork Transit Authority set a new ridership record last month. All that December snowfall turned Highway 82 into a veritable ice sheet for much of the month, and more than 200,000 people decided to take the bus instead of risking their lives and their personal vehicles by driving to work.

We take this as a good sign.

It shows that valley residents ” even some who don’t typically ride the bus ” will choose RFTA if it holds a distinct advantage over their own car. When driving conditions are poor, many feel the bus is a safer option. But there’s more to these choices than safety.

Probably many of those December bus riders felt that auto traffic would move more slowly on snowy days ” owing both to cautious drivers and to possible fender benders ” and that RFTA might get them to Aspen sooner. RFTA General Manager Dan Blankenship also theorized that higher parking fines in Aspen contributed to the increased ridership.

It is not easy getting people out of their cars and onto mass transit. Aspen and Pitkin County have been fighting this battle for years and, as we all know, traffic remains one of our most vexing local problems. But December’s numbers show that transit has a fighting chance, and that people will choose the bus under the right conditions.

It’s a reminder to our transportation gurus and local policy makers to keep looking for ways to enhance the public transit system, add those bus lanes to Highway 82, make bus service faster and more frequent. RFTA may never carry all of Aspen’s construction workers who bring tools and must travel to far-flung job sites around the upper valley, but it can offer a solid alternative for thousands of service workers and desk-bound professionals who work near bus stops.

We don’t expect driving to get any cheaper. Gasoline prices are going nowhere but up.

RFTA currently is pursuing a $100 million plan to upgrade its entire system in the hope of doubling its ridership by 2025. This may sound pie-in-the-sky to the transit doubters out there, but a six-lane Highway 82 is a physical and fiscal impossibility.

Mass transit is a worthy investment. In combination with affordable housing, it may in fact be the upper Roaring Fork Valley’s best hope for a long-term, sustainable economy.

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