RFTA may be slow to hit high gear | AspenTimes.com

RFTA may be slow to hit high gear

As the first winter storms whet the appetites of local powder hounds, area businesses again face the annual scramble to find enough workers to gear up for Aspen’s winter season.

This year’s first casualty from the dearth of seasonal employees may be the Roaring Fork Transit Agency’s winter schedule.

Traditionally, the bus system’s shift from its fall to winter schedule coincides with the Aspen Skiing Co.’s opening day. But a shortage of drivers may result in some delays in that transition.

To accommodate the busier winter schedule, RFTA would like to have 126 drivers on staff. Right now the agency has a commitment from 114 drivers.

“There may be incremental differences when we adjust from fall to winter schedules,” said Dan Blankenship, RFTA general manager. “As the ski season starts earlier and ends later, the demand isn’t always there. … We don’t want to push our drivers too much now and have them burned out when we really need them.”

This week, Blankenship will ask RFTA’s board of directors for permission to delay winter schedules on several routes for three weeks. The majority of bus routes, however, will still shift into higher gear on Nov. 21.

As proposed, the Aspen-to-Snowmass Village route and the East End Dial-a-Ride would remain on off-season intervals of every 30 minutes until Dec. 12 – at which point the winter schedule of a bus run every 15 minutes would go into effect.

Another potential change could be a delay in the extended hours for city routes until Dec. 12. During the high season, city bus service begins 30 minutes earlier in the morning and runs 30 minutes later in the evening.

But popular skier-used routes like the Galena Street shuttle and the Woody Creek van would remain unaffected and go into winter schedules when Skico starts running its lifts on Nov. 20.

“These adjustments are so minimal and impact so few people, it’s probable that if we didn’t tell anyone about the changes, people wouldn’t know the difference,” Blankenship said.

The three-week cushion on some service should be enough time to either recruit more drivers or get ready to pay some serious overtime.

But, if no more drivers are found or existing drivers don’t want the additional hours, more delays in expanded winter service are possible, Blankenship said.

“We might have to keep running off-season schedules for a little longer,” he said. “But I feel fairly confident that we’ll be all right and be in a more comfortable place to do the winter schedule if we’re allowed to ease into the season.”

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