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RFTA buses to operate on real time?

Carolyn Sackariason
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” It’s snowing ” hard ” and you have to be in downtown Aspen in 20 minutes. How long it will be before your bus shows up is the $4.5 million question.

The board of directors at the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority will spend Thursday discussing how to pay for a system that will give passengers real-time information on bus arrivals.

“We are trying to make it easier, and with the Internet on the buses, real-time information and heated areas at bus stops, all of this time feels more productive, and that’s the future of mass transit,” said RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship.



Those amenities are part of a larger plan, called Regional Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), that transportation officials want complete by 2017; it will cost an estimated $102 million. But the information system and satellite portion of the BRT plan could happen within a year or two. Officials are expected to decide Thursday whether it’s a high priority.

RFTA officials are hosting a retreat in Glenwood Springs to strategize how to pay for the estimated $4.5 million information system that would include technology that provides automatic vehicle location and computer-aided dispatch. GPS information provides real-time information at passenger stops and on the Internet.




Electronic fare collections and wireless Internet service on buses also are part of the BRT information systems plan.

RFTA officials also will discuss whether to ask voters this fall to pay for that system, as well as other elements of the BRT.

“We need to significantly improve our system and service, but we need to find more resources and that will likely raise the stakes in local elections,” Blankenship said.

Unlike the airline industry, RFTA doesn’t track arrival and departure times. That’s mostly because it lacks the technology to do so.

“It’s a little difficult for us to do,” Blankenship said. “Ten or 15 years ago, with all of the congestion, we kind of threw our hands up. … It’s hard for us to create a schedule that works and develop a system to monitor it.”

The new information system also would have technology to track arrival and departure times for buses.

While there are no hard-and-fast figures, this winter has been particularly sketchy for on-time arrivals, since the weather has been fierce with record snowfall and traffic congestion.

“There are so many variables on a daily basis,” Blankenship said. “We have more variability than what most communities deal with.”

Blankenship said the only tracking RFTA does is recording how late buses going out of town are running because of traffic congestion, so policy makers are aware of the challenges.

Officials realize that making bus service more reliable is the key to getting people out of their cars.

“When you are competing with the automobile, there are a number of things that are barriers when you ride transit,” Blankenship said. “People will choose the option that’s fastest.”

csack@aspentimes.com

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