RFTA running ‘lean, mean’ | AspenTimes.com

RFTA running ‘lean, mean’

The Roaring Fork Valley’s bus system is a lean operation, but outside consultants doubt it is sustainable in the long run, given its current resources.That conclusion came as no surprise to the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s board of directors Thursday.RFTA compares favorably in efficiency of its operation to several other transit agencies around the country that operate similar systems in terms of ridership, miles driven and total hours of service provided, according to the consultants.”We came to the conclusion RFTA performs quite favorably in terms of cost efficiency and cost-effectiveness,” said Subhash Mundle, president of Philadelphia-based Mundle & Associates, which performed the study in conjunction with Urbitran.Among the eight transit systems in the comparison, RFTA’s operation is about average in its costs per mile and costs per vehicle hour, and the leader in terms of fares and the percentage of costs it recoups though fares, Mundle noted.RFTA’s cost per passenger is slightly below the average of $3.57 among the eight agencies. Its subsidy per passenger, at $2.44, is below the average of $3.25.The comparisons are based on 2002 data – the most recent that is available for all of the agencies.”RFTA is a very unique system. It’s one of the largest rural transit systems in the country,” said Marlene Connor, senior vice president of Urbitran’s transit division.The transportation authority is operating as efficiently as it can, given its resources, but “our impression is, it’s not sustainable,” she said.The RFTA board is well aware of the authority’s precarious position. November ballot measures in jurisdictions throughout the valley, along with some Interstate 70 communities, will boost the authority’s tax support if they pass.In their final report the consultants will make recommendations that should be pursued if the tax measures pass, and steps that should be taken if they fail, Mundle said.Among their initial recommendations is boosting RFTA’s administrative staff. The agency has five administrators per 100,000 miles of service it provides, compared to 12.6 administrative staffers in the comparison group.The agency should have more supervisory personnel at its facilities and on the road, and more staffers to deal with its responsibility for the valleywide trail, Connor said.RFTA also needs to do more marketing and communication with the communities it serves, seek long-term contracts to provide services to municipalities, the Aspen Skiing Co. and other clients, and do a better job of reporting its performance, the consultants advised.”Right now, it doesn’t seem like there’s a snapshot that explains what your services are and how you function,” said Jim McLaughlin, vice president at Urbitran.The consultants also suggested an investment in information technology – such as automated passenger counting and real-time bus schedules on the Internet – that could run $3 million to $5 million.The agency also needs to make a significant investment in its trails program, Connor said.Among RFTA’s operations, the consultants singled out the Woody Creek route, which operates in the summer and winter, as the only hugely inefficient service operated by RFTA. It costs $19.56 per passenger to run; the average for service in the valley is $5.37 per passenger. “Obviously, Woody Creek sort of skews the average,” Connor said.The average cost per passenger for the Grand Hogback route, between Glenwood Springs and Rifle, is $5.25. Cutting Woody Creek service, however, wouldn’t greatly improve RFTA’s fortunes, noted Arnie Mordkin, Snowmass town councilman and RFTA board member.”If you eliminated the darn thing, you’re still not going to save enough money to buy a tire,” he said.”I’m left with the impression that RFTA runs a darn lean-and-mean organization,” Mordkin added. “Given what we have to work with, we’ve done a fantastic job.””Absolutely,” Connor concurred.RFTA and the upper-valley governments split the $72,758 cost of the efficiency study. Aspen officials pressed for the study to make sure the agency is operating as efficiently as it can be before asking voters for more money.”I think the report is positive for us to hear … I appreciate having done it,” said Dorothea Farris, RFTA board chairwoman and a Pitkin County commissioner.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com

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