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RFTA drives home point of housing

Janet Urquhart

The Roaring Fork Transit Agency has finally found the key to recruiting bus drivers – the keys to an apartment.

With employee housing units at its disposal for the first time in the transit agency’s history, RFTA is gearing up for the winter season with uncommon success, according to Dan Blankenship, executive director.

“For this time of year, for the first time in a long time, we’re where we need to be,” he said.

“Housing is a huge, huge key.”

RFTA needs 129 bus drivers for the winter season. In past years, the agency has battled driver burnout and overrun its overtime budget because it has not been able to fill all of those positions.

The ability to offer housing has allowed the agency to recruit workers from outside the area, Blankenship said.

“If you want to work here and you’ve got the housing, it’s a slam dunk,” he said.

Currently, RFTA has 103 drivers on staff and has commitments for 14 of the 26 additional positions it needs to fill when things get busy in mid-December.

Of the 14 employees that are already lined up, 11 have been promised housing. For the 12 positions that are yet to be filled, RFTA still has seven beds to offer as an enticement.

“And we have like 34 applications to fill those 12 positions from – and we’re getting more applications every day,” Blankenship said. “This has been the best year we’ve had recruiting since I’ve been here.”

RFTA recently purchased a five-unit apartment building in Carbondale and struck a deal with the city of Aspen for 10 seasonal apartments and four year-round units at the newly built Burlingame seasonal housing project.

Some of the units went to existing employees; the rest are helping ease the agency’s chronic labor shortage, Blankenship said.

The 10 two-bedroom seasonal units at Burlingame are available from Sept. 1 through April 30, but occupancy can be extended to May 31. The units are rented to music students during the summer.

In a deal with the city, RFTA agreed to make a one-time payment of $300,000 in a master lease arrangement for the units. They rent for $440 per bedroom, including utilities and telephone service. RFTA is responsible for payment of the rent, even if a bedroom is unoccupied, and collects the rent from its employees.

RFTA also has four year-round apartments at Burlingame at its disposal. They rent for $770 per month, including utilities and phone.

The Carbondale apartment building contains three one-bedroom apartments, which rent for $675 per month, including utilities, and two two-bedroom apartments, which rent for $1,100 per month, including utilities.

Upvalley governments floated RFTA a $550,000 loan to buy the apartment building, using revenues from a Pitkin County half-cent sales tax.

RFTA will repay the loan for the Carbondale building and the $300,000 for the Burlingame housing through its existing bonding capacity or through additional bonding capacity that is being proposed in Pitkin County.

County voters will be asked to authorize $10.2 million in transit revenue bonding.

Part of the money would go to buy buses for expanded transit service proposed in connection with a rural transportation authority.

Formation of the RTA will be before voters valleywide.


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