Bus riders might feel the sting of higher fuel costs | AspenTimes.com

Bus riders might feel the sting of higher fuel costs

The board that oversees the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority is debating whether to boost bus fares to offset the higher cost of fuel.One faction of the RFTA board of directors claimed in a meeting Thursday that responsible government requires the board to pass along the higher cost of doing business.”What concerns me is the numbers are getting big,” said RFTA board member and Snowmass Village Councilman Arnie Mordkin, referring to the bus company’s increased expenditures for diesel fuel. “We can’t bankrupt this company.”Another faction said RFTA could attract a lot more bus riders due to the high cost of gas, especially if the agency doesn’t raise fares.”With this current crisis, I think it’s making people question our use of fossil fuels,” said RFTA board member and Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud. “I think it would be a huge mistake to raise fares at this time.”Rising fuel prices hit RFTA harder than expected this year. The price the agency pays for diesel fuel, not including taxes, went from about $1.50 per gallon early in 2005 to almost $2.50 per gallon now. Prices skyrocketed recently when Hurricane Katrina knocked Gulf Coast refineries out of commission, some just temporarily.The federal government is expecting prices to drop only a small amount then stabilize for awhile, according to RFTA Director of Maintenance Kenny Osier.RFTA budgeted $1 million for fuel in 2005. It will probably spend more like $1.2 million, according to Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship. The best guess for next year is that the agency will spend between $1.7 million to $1.8 million for fuel, he said. Federal mandates on cleaner fuel standards will also contribute to the fuel cost increase.Blankenship said the higher fuel costs are bumping up RFTA’s overall operating costs by about 8.5 percent this year. He proposed raising fares by 5 to 10 percent to offset the higher costs.Scott Chaplin, a RFTA board member and Carbondale trustee, asked if RFTA could offset the increased operating expense by attracting more customers and not charging higher fares.Blankenship said a bus industry standard assumes that a 10 percent increase in fares results in a 4 percent drop in riders.”There’s a lot of guesswork in the elasticity,” he said.RFTA charges $6 cash for a bus ride between Aspen and Glenwood Springs, and $4 cash between Aspen and El Jebel. Punch passes are available, which offer about a 40 percent discount over cash. Season passes provide an even bigger discount.If fares are raised, they would likely increase before ski season starts. The RFTA board didn’t reach a conclusion Thursday about whether to hike fares. It will take up the debate at next month’s meeting.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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