RFTA bus ridership dropped 8.4 percent in 2010 | AspenTimes.com

RFTA bus ridership dropped 8.4 percent in 2010

ASPEN – Ridership on Roaring Fork Transportation Authority buses dropped 8.4 percent in 2010 but the agency still hauled nearly 4 million passengers, a report released Thursday showed.

Total ridership was 3,921,297 last year compared to 4,281,549 the prior year. That includes everything from service within Aspen and Glenwood Springs, skier shuttles paid for by the Aspen Skiing Co., valleywide service, and Grand Hogback service to New Castle, Silt and Rifle.

Dan Blankenship, RFTA’s CEO, said he suspects the area’s slow recovery from the recession played into the loss of riders.

“I think a lot of it was employment-related in 2010,” Blankenship said. Many upper valley businesses reduced workers in 2009 after the recession struck and it appears employment remained down last year, he said.

RFTA’s ridership was also affected by cuts to service and increased fares. It collected fewer sales tax revenues, so it balanced its budget with a mix of cuts and higher fares. The American Public Transportation Association has an elasticity model that indicates ridership will drop 4 percent for every 10 percent increase in fares, according to Blankenship. That metric proved accurate for RFTA. Cash fares increased about 22 percent.

Commuters might have had extra incentive to drive personal vehicles in 2010 as well. Fuel prices remained low throughout the year, Blankenship said, and the 2009-10 winter as well as the beginning of this winter was mild.

Valleywide bus service between Glenwood Springs and Aspen and points in-between fell 8.8 percent in 2010. Ridership slipped from 1.94 million in 2009 to 1.76 million passengers last year.

The Grand Hogback service between Glenwood Springs and Rifle fell 32 percent. There were 89,380 riders in 2009 and 60,745 passengers last year. RFTA’s most severe service cuts were to that service.

Ridership on the skier shuttles dropped 8.4 percent to 456,769.

Year-round service in Aspen was down 6.3 percent while seasonal service fell 10 percent, according to RFTA’s report.

Glenwood Springs’ internal service fell 6.3 percent.

The only major service to post an increase was the Maroon Bells buses. Ridership climbed modestly from 74,741 in 2009 to 78,916 last year.

The decrease in riders in 2010 followed a loss of almost 12 percent in 2009 compared to 2008. However, 2008 was a record year with 4.85 million passengers. The agency exceeded 4 million passengers each year from 2006 through 2009.

“We still have a tremendous amount of ridership.,” Blankenship said.

RFTA hopes to score a $25 million grant from the federal government in 2011 to fund an expansion project formally called Bus Rapid Transit and nicknamed RFTA on Steroids. Blankenship said the expansion is still needed despite ridership drops the last two years. The growth potential for the Roaring Fork Valley remains high once tourism and the real estate development bounce back, he said.

Blankenship saw signs of recovery late in 2010 in his agency’s numbers. “We appear to have reached the bottom and we’ve started to come back up,” he said, referring to monthly ridership figures. Total ridership increased 6.2 percent in December.


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