RFTA’s bus system hauls record number of passengers in Aspen, Glenwood area | AspenTimes.com

RFTA’s bus system hauls record number of passengers in Aspen, Glenwood area

Ridership on the region's public bus system roared to a record in 2017 in large part because of enhanced, free service during the Grand Avenue Bridge construction, Roaring Fork Transportation Authority CEO Dan Blankenship said Thursday.

RFTA hauled a total of 5,565,286 passengers on all routes last year, according to preliminary data released Thursday. That is an increase of 8.6 percent from the 5,122,397 passengers logged in 2016.

The big story of 2017 was meeting the challenges of the bridge replacement in Glenwood Springs throughout the fall. RFTA worked with the Colorado Department of Transportation and local governments to provide more service between western Garfield County and Glenwood Springs. The idea was to get people out of personal vehicles to ease traffic snarls getting off and on Interstate 70 in West Glenwood.

"Over 300,000 passengers were transported on services directly related to the closure and, without those passengers, the increase in ridership in 2017 would have been significantly less," Blankenship said.

RFTA is anticipating a decrease in ridership in 2018. Given the mild winter so far, Blankenship said, it could dip to the 2016 level.

The ridership record came even though December wasn't a strong month, Blankenship noted. Total ridership was down 6 percent in December.

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"It was largely because of lackluster snow," he said.

Bad weather and icy roads get people out of their personal vehicles and into buses, Blankenship said.

RFTA's bread-and-butter service along the Highway 82 corridor and between Aspen and Snowmass was up 2.5 percent. That includes the BRT service, which features more frequent service at a limited number of stops. The valley service buses combined to haul 2,586,268 passengers.

The free skier shuttles hauled another 589,387 passengers, down 1.2 percent from 2016.

Year-round service in Aspen was up 4.2 percent to 1,226,613.

Maroon Bells ridership was up almost 8 percent, reflecting the strong summer tourism. There were 215,562 riders to Maroon Lake.

RFTA is currently engaged in a long-range planning study to figure out how it will match increasing demands as federal funding has essentially disappeared.

scondon@aspentimes.com