Aspen-area bus ridership tops record 5 million passengers in 2016

A Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus exchanges passengers at the Intercept Lot at Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road in 2016. Ridership topped 5 million for the first time in 2016.
Jeremy Wallace / Aspen Times file |


Following are the number of passengers on RFTA’s main lines and the percentage gain or loss in 2016 from 2015.

City of Aspen 1,400,181 +29.79%

Valley Commuter 2,522,004 -5.83%

Grand Hogback 99,263 +10.17%

Skier shuttles 596,625 +9.33%

Ride Glenwood 185,064 -8.12%

G’wood Connect 7,414 N/A

X Games/charter 49,471 +27.04%

Senior Van 4,018 +8.62%

Burlingame 26,880 +84.77

Maroon Bells 199,768 +14.68%

Total riders 5,122,397 +5.78%

Source: Roaring Fork Transportation Authority

The Roaring Fork Valley’s public bus system reached record ridership and exceeded the 5 million mark for the first time in 2016.

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority said it hauled 5.12 million passengers last year. That is an increase of 279,739 riders, or 5.78 percent, from the year before.

Ridership has flirted with the 5 million mark the past couple of years. There were 4.81 million riders in 2014 and 4.84 million last year. The previous record for the agency was 4.85 million riders in 2008, according to Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship.

The beefed-up bus system is designed to get private vehicles off Highway 82 and prevent traffic from completely choking Aspen and the narrow Highway 82 corridor.

The hefty increase in ridership in 2016 was achieved despite low gasoline prices and a relatively mild winter in 2016, Blankenship noted. The increase might be attributable to something as mundane as better technology, he said.

RFTA started using automated passenger counters in 2016 on routes within Aspen. It had previously asked drivers to take notes on passengers. That wasn’t always accurate because of the swarms that sometimes ride the Centennial and Hunter Creek routes, according to Blankenship.

The city of Aspen contracts with RFTA for the service within the town so that no fares are charged. That’s an incentive to boost use of public transit. The recorded ridership shot up by 321,389 riders to 1.4 million last year. That was an increase of nearly 30 percent.

RFTA’s bread-and-butter service on Roaring Fork Valley commuter buses was down by 156,057 passengers, or 5.83 percent, last year. That includes service between Aspen and all points downvalley outside of town. There were 2.52 million riders on that service, or about half of all system-wide riders.

Blankenship said part of the decline was likely due to the addition of 75 parking spaces at the Carbondale Park and Ride near the intersection of Highway 133 and Highway 82 during the year. The number of passengers using the Carbondale circulator service dropped significantly, he said, because more people could park in the main lot. Overflow parking previously was closer to Main Street, and passengers then had to catch a shuttle to the park and ride for a bus upvalley.

The agency’s bus rapid transit network was flat with a total of 831,989 passengers. Bus rapid transit debuted in 2013, featuring increased frequency of service from a few major stops through the valley, roomier buses and better bus stops.

Free skier shuttles also posted a healthy increase in ridership in 2016, as did scenic rides to the Maroon Bells and service for the X Games.