New RFTA data reveal efficiency of bus system
The Aspen Times
Though it’s a small sample size, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority released GPS-generated data this week that give a glimpse into how efficient the agency’s buses are running.
Tracking arrival times between Dec. 14 to Dec. 20, RFTA officials found the Castle/Maroon bus lagging significantly behind other in-town routes. With “on time” defined as “three minutes late or less,” which is within industry standard, the Castle/Maroon bus ran at 35 percent efficiency between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. and at 51 percent between 7 p.m. and 2 a.m.
RFTA Information Technology Director Phil Schultz said that a major factor delaying that route is the roundabout, which the Castle/Maroon buses enter four times on a full loop between stops at Castle Ridge and Highlands.
“Castle/Maroon is something we’ve been looking at for a while,” Schultz said.
One of the solutions RFTA has considered for Castle/Maroon is lessening the frequency of buses so drivers have more of a cushion between stops. But that, CEO Dan Blankenship said, would mean fewer buses when the cushion is not necessarily needed during low volume.
“It’s not that we don’t care,” Blankenship said. “It’s just that it’s a challenge for us to solve that issue without doing something that’s going to cost more or reducing the frequency (of buses).”
For the same week, the Burlingame route operated at 100 percent efficiency, and Schultz said that’s because drivers have a wide window of time. Theoretically, he said a bus could make it from Rubey Park to Burlingame on 20-minute intervals, but the route is set at 30 minutes to ensure arrival times are dependable.
The Hunter Creek bus showed between 90 and 100 percent efficiency for most of the day but dipped to 75 percent between 7 p.m. and 2 a.m. Schultz said pedestrians and idling vehicles near the Wheeler Opera House present a challenge for drivers. The Cemetery Lane route operated between 94 and 100 percent efficiency at all times except between 3 and 7 p.m., when it operated at 57 percent efficiency. Schultz said that dip can be attributed to S-curve traffic during rush hour.
RFTA also provided numbers for downvalley buses operating in the same week. The bus-rapid-transit route operated at 79 percent efficiency, the Snowmass/Aspen bus operated at 69 percent and the Mountain Valley bus operated at 93 percent.
Blankenship said another factor that creates delays is the lack of experienced drivers. He estimates that RFTA hired between 50 and 60 seasonal workers this year. New employees undergo about three weeks of training, but Blankenship said it takes a month or two to get acclimated.
“It can be snowpacked roads, it can be crowds, and it’s also that we have a lot of new people on this time of year because of the seasonal nature of the business,” Blankenship said.
RFTA has been tracking vehicle efficiency since September 2013 using Clever Devices equipment, which is accessed via wireless modems. But between working out kinks and bringing the entire system online, Schultz said RFTA has only been tracking the entire operation since summer 2014.
Schultz said the volume level for the third week in December is not typical throughout the year, and he guessed that this level of efficiency is only seen for about 15 or 20 percent of the year. During the quieter months, he estimated efficiency levels to be around 95 to 100 percent.
For RFTA to improve routes, he said the public should bring it to the agency’s attention if buses are running consistently late.
“We listen to people’s comments and try to adjust things to make things run as efficiently as possible,” Schultz said. “It’s been a little over a year and we’ve already made many improvements. Over the next two or three years, we’ll get things more and more refined.”
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