Bus to the airport will cost a dollar | AspenTimes.com

Bus to the airport will cost a dollar

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The free bus ride between Aspen and the airport may become a thing of the past as the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority looks to erase a projected deficit in its 2003 operating budget.

And those who prefer to drive themselves around the valley may help to pay for bus service anyway, with a surcharge on the cost of registering their vehicle.

RFTA?s Planning and Development Subcommittee has recommended that riders be charged a dollar for the trip between town and the airport/Aspen Airport Business Center stop.

The group also gave its support to a $10 surcharge on vehicle registrations.

The committee met last week to discuss various strategies to increase revenue and cut the cost of operating the valleywide bus service, which is estimating a budget shortfall of more than $500,000 for next year, according to Dan Blankenship, RFTA executive director. ?It might be $800,000 to $900,000 before it?s all said and done,? he said.

Rejected by the group were overall fare increases, or instituting fares for young children and senior citizens, who currently ride for free. ?The subcommittee wasn?t really inclined to recommend that. They did feel a one-dollar fare from the AABC might be reasonable,? Blankenship said.

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With a punch pass, the $1 fare is reduced to 57.5 cents.

Instituting a $10 surcharge on vehicle registration fees ? a move the RFTA board of directors discussed in August ? also had the subcommittee?s support, he said.

The fee would be added to the cost of registering a vehicle in the municipalities and counties that already fund the authority through sales taxes ? Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, Pitkin County and a portion of Eagle County.

The subcommittee also suggested the RFTA board explore selling advertising on the outside of buses to generate revenue, though that was not the group?s top preference, Blankenship said.

The vehicle registration fee could generate about $400,000 a year, Blankenship said. The $1 fare for service to the airport would add a projected $30,000 to RFTA?s coffers, he estimated.

Aspen has long enjoyed free in-town bus service, but a ride out to the airport used to cost a buck. Free service was extended to the airport in late 1994 or early 1995, when RFTA expanded its bus service and the city instituted paid parking.

?We dropped the fare to give people an incentive to use the service in the corridor between town and the AABC, where there was the most traffic congestion,? Blankenship said.

Free service to the airport, however, invites abuse. Someone getting on a regional bus in Aspen who plans to disembark at the AABC can ride for free, but some riders remain on the bus for a free ride to a downvalley destination.

?We?ve experienced a lot of scamming,? Blankenship said.

And now, with RFTA experiencing a funding shortfall as the result of declining sales tax revenues and a dropoff in ridership, reinstituting a fare to the airport is getting consideration.

So are ways to cut service. A reduction in weekend service during the off-seasons ? both in hours of operation and in the frequency of bus service up and down the valley ? is also on the table, Blankenship said.

A preliminary 2003 budget and some specific recommendations on how to balance it will go to the RFTA board at its Oct. 10 meeting in Carbondale, according to Blankenship. He expects the board to give the budget final approval in December.

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