Fuel prices might lead to bus fare hike | AspenTimes.com

Fuel prices might lead to bus fare hike

Bus riders might pay 10 percent more for trips throughout the valley this winter to offset soaring fuel prices and operating costs.The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority staff is advising the board of directors to raise fares by at least 10 percent starting this winter. The directors will meet Thursday in Carbondale to debate the recommendation and look at other budget issues for 2006.RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship said the agency anticipates a 9 percent increase in operating costs in 2006. About half of that is the result of higher fuel costs.The agency budgeted about $1 million for diesel fuel this year. It likely will spend about $1.3 million to keep the fleet running, Blankenship said.Next year, the agency anticipates fuel costs of $1.75 million. However, Blankenship said it’s nearly impossible right now to gauge prices for the next few weeks, let alone for several months.Higher health insurance premiums and wages are also driving operating costs higher.To offset some of the costs, the RFTA staff is recommending charging 10 percent more for punch passes, monthly passes and season passes. The price of a winter pass for bus rides between Aspen and El Jebel would increase from $525 to $577.50 under the 10 percent increase. The cost of a punch pass worth $40, which sells at a discount, would increase from $25 to $27.50.Blankenship said RFTA typically raises fares by 3 to 5 percent annually, but he didn’t think the 10 percent proposal would surprise bus riders.”They understand our fuel costs are skyrocketing,” he said.Experience shows that charging higher fares typically reduces RFTA ridership. Industry standards indicate a 10 percent fare increase would result in an almost 3 percent drop in ridership, Blankenship said. But the effect on ridership is more of a wild card this year because high gas prices might still keep people out of their vehicles.The net effect of raising fares 10 percent would be about $61,000 more in revenues, according to staff projections.Blankenship noted that some RFTA directors indicated in a meeting last month that they don’t want to raise fares because this might be a golden opportunity to attract more customers. Some board members might feel this isn’t the time to hit riders with higher fares, “when the oil companies are gouging everybody,” he said.Blankenship and his staff are playing it safe with other 2006 budget projections. For example, they anticipate 3 percent growth in sales tax revenues even though robust sales this year pushed actual collections up more than 8 percent over the budgeted amount.Blankenship said it is feared that high fuel costs might curb retail spending and hit public agencies such as RFTA.The RFTA directors will also be called on to make a tough decision about service to Glenwood Springs. The RFTA staff’s wish list includes running a bus between Glenwood and the upper valley every 30 minutes for 12 hours a day. Right now bus service is no more frequent than every hour.Increasing the frequency would cost $252,000 for an entire year. Glenwood Springs is a major contributor of sales tax revenues and has quietly pushed for increased service.RFTA’s directors will meet at Carbondale Town Hall on Thursday beginning at 8:30 a.m.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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