Longing for deeper RFTA coverage
July 18, 2011
Imagine if the RFTA bus service, which currently runs the length of Highway 82 from Glenwood Springs to Aspen, carried less than a third of the riders it does today. Wouldn’t that be great?
RFTA apparently thinks so, and is working hard to make it happen.
The current bus service provides more than 40 locations along the valley route where a bus will stop and pick you up. The plan for the new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system is to stop at only 10 or 12 of the most popular locations, which will help make the trip from Glenwood to Aspen faster by about 11 minutes (according to the Corridor Investment Study completed back in 2003). Fewer stops provide only part of the travel time improvement, as more than half of the time savings is projected to result from the use of an automated ticketing system.
BRT will not replace the existing system, as that would represent a massive cut in service to the intermediate bus stop locations and the people who use them. Instead, the existing system will continue to run alongside the BRT system – and RFTA will effectively compete with itself for ridership. BRT will run more frequently, throughout the day and well into the evening, which means that more than double the number of bus seats will be hauled up and down the valley each day.
With faster service and the cherry-picking of the best bus stops by BRT, what portion of total valley ridership will the slower old regular service manage to keep? RFTA doesn’t know, nor does anyone else in a position of authority or fiscal responsibility. Not a single media reporter, elected official, or federal bureaucrat, to the best of my knowledge based on dogged inquiry, has ever asked the question, “What happens to the ridership numbers on the old system?”
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In the summer of 2007 I made four full-length trips on the valley bus route and recorded the “boarding and alighting” bus stop locations of every rider, thereby making it possible to see how many people might continue to use the intermediate stops which won’t be served by BRT. Despite the small sample size, this was the most detailed research of its kind ever conducted prior to the decision to launch a multi hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars transit expansion. My survey is the source for the 32 percent success rate estimated in the opening paragraph, and to this day remains as the best information available on the subject.
The nice thing about an automated ticketing system, in addition to the increased efficiency in loading passengers and subsequent improvement in travel time, is that it can be designed to record the starting and ending point of every bus trip. So, let’s imagine that the purpose of the local news media is to provide information. Wouldn’t it be swell if these watchdogs for the citizenry made a point of learning, and telling us, what RFTA has in mind for the data collection capability of their proposed automated ticketing system?
In the future we might not need to rely on the low-tech efforts of a private citizen to assess the value of our public spending, at least for this one subject.