Bus ridership grows for ﬁrst time in three years
ASPEN – Bus ridership on the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority system increased in 2011 after big losses in passengers the prior two years.
RFTA hauled 3,702,108 passengers systemwide through November, according to a report from CEO Dan Blankenship to the board of directors. That is an increase of 6.27 percent from the same period in 2010.
Blankenship said final numbers aren’t available for December, but he estimated that bus ridership will land around 4.1 million, or an increase of about 5 percent from 2010 when ridership was at 3.92 million.
RFTA’s ridership exploded in 2006 and topped 4 million for the first time. A record 4.85 million passengers boarded buses in 2008. Ridership plummeted in 2009, after the recession hit the Roaring Fork Valley, and fell another 8.5 percent in 2010.
Blankenship tied the increase in ridership in part to the improved economy. Sales tax revenues for most of RFTA’s member jurisdictions have increased this year. He believes businesses hired more workers in 2011, producing more bus riders.
Bus ridership also correlates in some degree to gas prices. “Fuel prices were a little bit higher earlier in the year,” Blankenship said. The higher gas prices go, the more people will park their private vehicles and take buses.
Poor weather in the winter also affects ridership. Snow days drive up passenger numbers on all services.
“Ridership is affected positively by negative weather,” Blankenship said. Snow and ice boosted ridership in the 2010-11 winter but not as much so far this winter.
RFTA currently offers service throughout the Roaring Fork Valley and the Grand Hogback route in the Lower Colorado River Valley. The bus service within the city of Aspen was up by 45,664 riders, or 4.9 percent, through November over the same period in 2010. Bus service within Glenwood Springs was up 24,659 passengers or 6.3 percent.
Regional commuter service in the Roaring Fork Valley was up 111,879 or 7 percent. Grand Hogback service was up 1,188 or 2.1 percent.
In specialized service, skier buses contracted by the Aspen Skiing Co. were up by 31,007 passengers or 8.4 percent, while Maroon Bells service was up 5,632 or 7.1 percent.
RFTA is anticipating even bigger gains in ridership starting in fall 2013. It is expanding its service with a project called Bus Rapid Transit. More direct service within the Roaring Fork Valley will be added. Bus stations will be built in strategic parts of the valley to replace the humble covered shelters that now exist. RFTA’s board of directors recently gave the staff permission to order 18 buses for the expansion.
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