Gas pains produce record RFTA bus ridership
ASPEN ” Record-setting ridership last winter on the Roaring Fork region’s buses has carried into the start of summer.
Ridership on Roaring Fork Transportation Authority buses was up 11.3 percent in June, according to Dan Blankenship, the agency’s chief executive officer. That reflects riders on service within Aspen, between Aspen and Snowmass Village, throughout the Highway 82 corridor, within Glenwood Springs and on the “Hogback” route between Glenwood and Rifle.
Ridership on the Highway 82 corridor routes, a good gauge of commuters between downvalley towns and jobs in Aspen, was up 10.4 percent in June, Blankenship said.
Business for buses soared last winter because of high gas prices and dicey driving conditions from so much snow. There was standing room only on Aspen-bound buses during many mornings and downvalley-bound buses in afternoons. Buses are still sometimes getting packed beyond seating capacity.
“It’s largely at peak times but it can happen any time,” Blankenship said.
He expects the trend to continue through the foreseeable future because fuel prices remain high. That provides extra incentive for some people to leave their personal vehicles in the garage and ride a bus.
For the year-to-date, RFTA’s ridership is up about 7.5 percent. So far, there have been 2,585,580 riders compared to 2,406,206 last year, Blankenship said.
The bus agency set a record last year with about 4.45 million riders. If current trends continue, RFTA will eclipse that mark with roughly 4.76 million riders. In addition, the agency is poised to break the 5 million rider mark in 2009 at the current pace.
RFTA plans asking voters in its district area for a sales tax increase in November to beef up service.
Blankenship said the most dramatic growth in 2008 has been on the Hogback service. It’s up 46.5 percent and had its best single month ever in June. Also in June, ridership on city of Aspen buses was up 12.4 percent. Highway 82 corridor service reflects a 5.1 percent increase, but Blankenship believes the true growth is greater. Upper valley riders tapped into new Burlingame bus service this year. Many of those riders would typically be on valley service buses.
If an adjustment is made for those changing patterns, valley service in the Highway 82 corridor would likely be up about 8 percent, Blankenship said.
High fuel prices have also affected the bus agency. It recently added $500,000 to its budget for fuel purchases this year.
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