Roaring Fork Transportation Authority ridership up in September

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority isn’t ready to proclaim its $46.2 million expansion project a success quite yet, but officials found the first month’s results encouraging.

About 64,000 passengers rode the new buses that are part of the expanded service during September, according to CEO Dan Blankenship. RFTA added bus-rapid-transit service with special buses that have higher frequency and make fewer stops on trips between Aspen and downvalley towns.

Ridership on regular service in the Highway 82 corridor fell from 129,602 in September 2012 to 109,373 for the month this year. The bus-rapid-transit service was designed to replace some of the old service.

For the month as a whole, RFTA hauled 173,403 passengers on the Highway 82 corridor in September this year compared with 129,602 for the same month last year. That’s an increase of 34 percent.

Blankenship noted that RFTA offered free rides for the first four days that expanded bus service was available, so that probably buoyed ridership to some extent. The real test for the expanded service will be during October and November, which are part of the fall offseason, he said. The September ridership numbers are the latest available.

If RFTA doesn’t increase passenger numbers over the next 12 to 18 months, local taxpayers and the federal government will likely be disappointed. The $46.2 million expansion was paid for through increased local sales taxes and a $25 million grant.

The new service is supposed to reduce travel time to make the buses competitive with private vehicles. During the peak of winter and summer, buses will travel about every 10 minutes to increase the convenience. The new buses have the VelociRFTA logo that features a dinosaur.

Blankenship said prior to the launch of the bus-rapid-transit service in early September that ridership in the Highway 82 corridor and between Aspen and Snowmass Village could grow as much as 30 percent.

RFTA hauled a record 1.82 million passengers on the Highway 82 service in 2008. The numbers were down by about 300,000 in 2012, so RFTA will need large gains just to get to historical numbers.

There’s a precedent for growth. RFTA doubled its service between 1994 and 1996 and increased ridership by 1.1 million rides.