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No more RFTA freebies

Aspen, CO Colorado

It’s time for the Roaring Fork Transit Authority to get tough with three local governments that have refused thus far to accept their share of the funding burden for our regional bus system.

For years, RFTA has provided service to the western Garfield County communities of Silt and Rifle, even though neither of those municipalities or Garfield County are members of the authority. (Members, including every municipality in the Roaring Fork Valley, along with Pitkin and Eagle counties, contribute revenues from a dedicated sales tax.) The failure of these jurisdictions to sign on as full-fledged RFTA supporters has long been a bone of contention, and RFTA’s board of directors has threatened in the past to withdraw its subsidies for the so-called Grand Hogback route that serves Silt and Rifle. (In fairness, Garfield County contributes $500,000 each year to RFTA from its general fund ” not nearly what a sales tax would generate ” and Rifle gives a modest amount.)

But the ongoing recession may finally force the board’s hand, and frankly we hope it does.

The sales tax revenues that support RFTA have dropped severely this year. They’re presently running roughly 21 percent below budget. The agency plans to ride out 2009 by dipping into its reserves, but if the nationwide downturn lasts into 2010, service will have to be cut.

It goes without saying that any reduction in regional transit service is undesirable and will automatically place more automobile traffic on Highway 82. However, if RFTA cannot balance its budget, then cut it must. Fare increases have been shown to decrease ridership, and are doubly problematic during a recession. And the Hogback route is the right place to cut back, since it makes no sense to reduce service to RFTA member communities.

Eliminating the Grand Hogback service, though clearly a short-term loss for everyone from Aspen to Rifle, is arguably in everyone’s long-term best interest. First, it’s only fair that all jurisdictions served by RFTA contribute proportionally to the agency’s budget; you pay to play, and there’s no better incentive to ante up than a loss of service. Second, RFTA simply needs the money, and the Grand Hogback route has helped force the authority to deficit-spend this year.

It’s time to end the freebies. Either Silt, Rifle and Garfield County pay their share, or they’re out. They’re no longer as cash-strapped as they once were, but RFTA most certainly is.


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