City plans cutbacks in bus service
Aspen Times Staff Writer
The coming winter will see reduced service on two Aspen bus routes as the city looks to eliminate a $208,245 deficit in its 2003 transportation budget.
The Aspen City Council agreed to several cutbacks in bus service during a work session Tuesday. The moves will save nearly $200,000 in the cost of running the city’s free, in-town bus system next year and eliminate all but about $10,000 of a projected operating deficit. That remaining shortfall can be covered with unspent funds in this year’s budget.
“We’re trying to look at the least productive routes ? high cost per rider, low ridership,” said John Krueger, the city’s transportation manager.
City staffers recommended several service reductions that Krueger said would make sense even if the city wasn’t in a financial crunch. Declining sales tax revenues coupled with the need to set aside money for future bus replacement are causing the budget woes.
“They’re pieces of the transit system we felt should be looked at regardless of the economic situation ? areas that might not be the best place to put your resources,” Krueger said.
For the winter season, the Cross Town Shuttle will run 12 hours a day instead of 15, and the East End Dial-A-Ride will run just twice an hour throughout the day. In the past, the Dial-A-Ride bus has run every 15 minutes during peak hours ? from 7 to 10 a.m. and 2:30 to 6 p.m.
The council also agreed to reduce service on Sundays during the off-seasons on all of its routes, including Cemetery Lane, Castle/Maroon and Hunter Creek. Buses will run for 12 hours on Sundays, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., during the spring and fall.
Finally, the council decided to eliminate off-season service on the new direct Maroon Creek route that will begin next month.
Aspen Highlands Village and Five Trees will fund the operation of a bus serving the Maroon Creek Road corridor between Rubey Park and Highlands twice an hour during the winter season. The city is to fund the bus the rest of the year.
Krueger suggested the city run the bus during the summer season and save $90,000 by eliminating the route during the off-seasons. The corridor will continue to receive service every 20 minutes with the Castle/Maroon bus, he noted.
The only recommendation from Krueger that the council rejected was hiking the fare from $1 to $2 for Dial-A-Ride passengers who want service to their door. The extra $7,230 in revenues the increase would generate isn’t worth it, council members concurred.
“It’s one of those annoyances that doesn’t get us much,” Councilman Tim Semrau said.
It was the reduction in peak service on the Dial-A-Ride route, however, that most troubled Mayor Helen Klanderud, who resides on the east side of town.
The Dial-A-Ride service has seen various changes in service already. During the off-seasons, it now stops running at 7:45 p.m., while other city buses run until midnight except the Cross Town Shuttle, which doesn’t operate at all during the off-seasons.
“One concern I have is that, over time, ridership on that route has continued to decrease,” she said. “If you keep beating it up, I don’t know if you’ll get those riders back.”
The Dial-A-Ride service is, however, the most costly of the city’s bus routes at about $10.48 per passenger, Krueger noted. The bus runs east on Highway 82 to the Mountain Valley subdivision, serving several neighborhoods along the way.
The four service cuts will affect a projected 19,440 passenger trips, according to Krueger.
Overall ridership on the city’s bus routes is down this year. For the four buses that run year-round ? Cemetery Lane, Hunter Creek, Castle/Maroon and Dial-A-Ride ? ridership through September totaled 625,605, compared to 640,619 through September 2001.
Ridership on the Castle/Maroon route is actually up, but the others are down, Krueger said.
The service cuts OK’d last night come on top of the off-season reductions in bus service the city implemented this year to save about $100,000.
[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is email@example.com]
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