As ski season kicks in, RFTA bus ridership soars
Public transit playing important role despite challenges of pandemic
Average daily ridership on the Roaring Fork Valley’s public bus system has soared 57% this winter over fall levels despite the threats and challenges of the pandemic.
Roaring Fork Transportation Authority buses had an average daily ridership just shy of 4,000 during the fall. Once winter service kicked in Nov. 22, average daily ridership soared to 6,276, according to data the staff presented Thursday to the board of directors.
RFTA anticipates daily numbers hitting 10,000 passenger trips once ski season is in full swing, Kurt Ravenschlag, RFTA’s chief operating officer, said at the meeting.
The increasing numbers underscore the importance of public transit to a lot of workers and the overall health of the economy. The routes with the biggest increases in ridership are city of Aspen, up 59%, and Highway82/Snowmass Village service, up 48%.
Ride Glenwood, the Carbondale Circulator and the Hogback Service all have lower average daily ridership since winter service started.
“Winter season Hogback commuter bus service has decreased by approximately 26%, possibly due to the Thanksgiving holiday and tightening COVID-19 restrictions being imposed on businesses in Garfield County,” a memo written by Ravenschlag said.
RFTA is in a situation where it must burn extra resources to provide traditional levels of service. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has imposed capacity limits on public transit as a safeguard during the pandemic. RFTA buses can only be filled to 50% capacity to ensure social distancing between occupants. Back-up buses are on standby at key locations during busiest time in case scheduled service cannot accommodate all passengers.
System-wide, RFTA is making 1,025 daily one-way trips this winter compared with 527 in the fall. That is an increase of 498 trips or 94%.
“Overall, RFTA’s winter season recruitment and training program for seasonal bus operators has been exceeding initial expectations,” Ravenschlag wrote in a memo to the board. The agency currently has 207 drivers available. That’s five short of its goal. Vacant shifts will likely need to be covered by paying overtime.
Keeping a full staff “will certainly be very important to deliver service,” Ravenschlag said.
Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s board of director gave final approval Thursday to the 2021 budget.
The total budget is $60.2 million, down 28 percent from 2020. However, operating funds are up 5 percent to $46.6 million while capital expenditures are down 78 percent to $8 million. RFTA also has $5.5 million in debut service, up 42 percent.
Sales and use tax revenues are anticipated to fall 1 percent while property tax revenues are projected to drop 0.5 percent. Fare revenues are expected to tumble 8.6 percent due to capacity constraints and lower demand.
Revenues from service contracts are expected to increase 22 percent.
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The crises between January 2009 and Tuesday, when he stepped down from the Pitkin County board, have bookended a political career that Newman said he thinks lived up to the slogan on the yard sign from his first campaign he still keeps in his garage: “Preserve, Conserve, Collaborate.”