RFTA foresees big losses in sales tax revenues, fares due to coronavirus | AspenTimes.com

RFTA foresees big losses in sales tax revenues, fares due to coronavirus

A woman wearing a mask sits on a RFTA bus at Rubey Park Transit Center in Aspen on Thursday, May 7, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The Roaring Fork Valley’s public bus system is estimating it could lose about $6.75 million in sales tax revenue and $2.9 million in fares due to the economic collapse connected to the coronavirus crisis.

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s preliminary financial projection shows a 26.3% loss in sales tax revenue for 2020. Sales tax is the agency’s largest single revenue source.

Fare revenue is expected to sink by 53.2%. RFTA has drastically reduced service to prevent large gatherings and adhere to social-distancing requirements. In addition, it has ceased collecting fares to enhance driver and passenger safety.

RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship said in an email that the latest budget projections are likely to change.

“In the forecast, there are numerous assumptions about service levels and the economy for the balance of the year, which may not prove accurate since there are so many unknowns at this time,” Blankenship wrote. “As the year progresses and we obtain more actual revenue and expenditure data, the forecast is likely to change.”

One factor is certain: Federal grants will blunt the blow of the revenue loss. RFTA anticipates receiving $15.76 million in grants in 2020 — more than double the $7.34 million budgeted. The agency received $5.335 million this month in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding, which was awarded from the Federal Transit Administration via the Colorado Department of Transportation. RFTA is anticipating approximately $3 million in additional federal funding in a second round of grants. That will total $8.4 million in total CARES ACT funds, according to Blankenship.

Due to receipt of the grants, RFTA anticipates revenue falling only $1.4 million short of budget despite the big loss in sales tax and fare box revenues.

RFTA is cutting its expenditures as well during the coronavirus crisis. It anticipates slicing about $954,251 of spending from the budget.

With other financing sources, RFTA still anticipates adding about $4.93 million to its end-of-year fund balance, according to Blankenship.

Meanwhile, with restrictions on businesses easing, RFTA is adjusting its level of service again starting Sunday.

“It is evident to RFTA that maintaining the nine-passenger social distancing bus capacity limit while providing its phase 3 bare-bones service plan will be challenging,” RFTA said in an announcement. “RFTA is already seeing higher passenger demand and plans to initiate its phase 4 service plan effective Sunday, May 10. By providing higher frequency service, the demand for service can be more evenly distributed which, in itself, should help to reduce the number of passengers at one time on any given bus.”

The phase 4 service plan will bring “modest” service increases. RFTA continues to urge only essential workers and people traveling for essential purposes to ride the bus. All passengers are required to wear face coverings for the foreseeable future.

The adjustments to service will affect the Bus Rapid Transit, local, Hogback, Snowmass Village and Ride Glenwood routes. The schedule changes are detailed at http://www.rfta.com.


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