RFTA winter service iffy
Employers who are gearing up their winter-season staffing levels shouldn’t have to contend with a drastic reduction in bus service midway through the winter, according to Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud.Nonetheless, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s board of directors may order the curtailing of the valley’s bus operations by early January if a series of ballot measures that would boost its tax revenues fails at the polls next month.The board will have some crucial decisions to make at its Nov. 11 meeting, a little more than a week after the Nov. 2 election. Meanwhile, RFTA administrators are preparing three possible budget scenarios, depending on the election’s outcome.The worst-case scenario calls for a 33 percent service cut in 2005, but RFTA’s directors are split on when those reductions should go into effect.Michael Gallagher, Eagle County commissioner and RFTA board member, suggested RFTA start the winter season with the service cuts in place if voters reject the request for additional funding. Klanderud argued the winter bus schedule should remain intact through the close of the ski season next April, while Snowmass Councilman Arnie Mordkin pushed to put the cuts in place as quickly as possible in 2005.”I don’t think you can go out and look for drivers if no one knows they’ll be here in January,” Klanderud said.And, RFTA isn’t the only employer ramping up its staff for the winter, she added.”It’s every employer whose employees depend upon RFTA to get to work,” Klanderud said. “In my mind, there has to be a commitment for winter.””There has to be some discussion about the commitment to the winter season,” agreed Dorothea Farris, Pitkin County commissioner and RFTA board chairwoman.Among the proposed service reductions for the winter, at least come January, are running buses only from 6 a.m. to 6:15 p.m., with hourly service in the valley between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. rather than every 30 minutes.Other routes would be curtailed, and the direct bus between Aspen and Snowmass Village would be eliminated. The Grand Hogback route between Glenwood Springs and Rifle would also see reductions, and no service on Sundays.If none of the ballot measures passes, RFTA needs to cut about $1 million next year, but it needs to reduce its operating costs by about $2.4 million to balance the budget over the long term, said CEO Dan Blankenship.Keeping the winter service intact is doable, but it may mean more drastic cuts later in the year, he predicted.”The longer we operate a bus system in the red, the more it costs us,” said Mordkin, calling for immediate reductions next year if additional funding gets a thumbs-down from voters. “We don’t have the ability to make up the loss. We’ve got to make those cuts as soon as we can.””I concur wholeheartedly – deficit spending is not acceptable,” Gallagher said.The service cuts may take a little time to accomplish, Blankenship said, as they could affect entities that contract with RFTA for service, like Aspen and Glenwood Springs. Those cities pay RFTA to run their in-town systems. If RFTA ceases valley operations at 6:15 p.m., there may be significant cost implications for cities that want evening service, he said.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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Aspen voters will be asked to extend a sales tax this fall that supports funding for public schools.