RFTA preparing for the future
Many of Jeffrey Evans’ comments in his letters, blogs and Common Sense Alliance ads focus on RFTA cost and ridership increases during the 10-year period from 1997 through 2007. He says that population in the RFTA service area increased by 38 percent during this time frame and cites RFTA operating cost increases of approximately 130 percent relative to a ridership increase of 21 percent.
His numbers are only part of the story. In 1994 and 1995, RFTA’s ridership grew cumulatively by 1.1 million riders; peaking in 1996 at 3.7 million and then gradually declining until the end of 2003. During this period, RFTA implemented several major fare increases to balance its budget, which stunted growth in ridership. Additionally, Y2K, the 2001 recession, 9/11 and forest fires in 2002 took a toll on the regional economy, negatively impacting employment and ridership. In order to survive the lean years, RFTA reduced services, deferred capital replacement and cut back on salary increases, freezing wages in 2004.
In the second half of 2004, the regional economy turned around, spurring tremendous growth in employment. Fierce competition for scarce workers substantially drove up employee costs for all businesses. Post-Katrina, fuel and other costs began to rise dramatically. To meet rapidly growing demand, RFTA began ramping up its services and increasing its wages to attract and retain the help it needed.
RFTA’s performance over 20 years provides a broader perspective. The transit industry uses cost per mile as an indicator of operating efficiency. In 1987, RFTA’s cost per mile was $2.56, and in 2007 it was $5.24, an increase of approximately 103 percent over 20 years. The average annual rate of increase in RFTA’s cost per mile was just 3.6 percent per year.
During this 20-year period, RFTA’s ridership increased by 162 percent, while population in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties increased by approximately 100 percent. This year, system-wide ridership is on pace to hit 4.8 million, and RFTA is at the wall in terms of capacity, frequently experiencing standing-room-only situations.
RFTA has enjoyed tremendous public support because it is reliable and people understand that transit services are good for the economy and the environment. Mr. Evans has opposed nearly every transit initiative that voters have approved during the last 20 years.
Once again, the choice is clear. Apparently, Mr. Evans prefers the short-term view that cars and more highway capacity are the way to go. Looking ahead, RFTA believes we should be actively preparing for a less auto-reliant future. You decide.
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