RTA moves to fix overcrowding on downvalley buses | AspenTimes.com
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RTA moves to fix overcrowding on downvalley buses

Allyn Harvey

Relief appears to be just around the corner for riders on one of the most overtaxed bus routes in the valley.

Regular riders of the buses between Aspen and Glenwood Springs have become accustomed to overcrowding throughout the day. The route currently departs just once every two hours, so even late-night runs to Glenwood Springs often leave Rubey Park in Aspen with every seat filled.

The Rural Transportation Authority last week approved a plan to double the number of runs each day, creating hourly service between the two cities beginning April 1.

The increase in service will mark the first visible change for bus riders since voters in seven jurisdictions agreed last November to pool their resources and form the RTA.

Behind the scenes, an 18- to 24-month process of merging the RTA with the existing bus agency, the Roaring Fork Transit Agency (RFTA), has been under way since early December. Last Friday’s all-day RTA meeting was the third such gathering over the last five weeks of the elected officials who make up its board.

“I want to move ahead with hourly service to Glenwood, because we have standing-room only on most trips right now,” said Rachel Richards, Aspen’s mayor and its representative to the RTA.

The RTA’s board, made up of one elected official from each participating jurisdiction (Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, Snowmass Village, Pitkin County and Eagle County), voted unanimously to adopt the plan for more service to Glenwood.

But at the same time, the board members told RFTA director Dan Blankenship not to be too ambitious with plans to notch up service.

A memo from Blankenship outlined the agency’s plan to begin I-70 service between Glenwood and Rifle by June 15, and half-hour service between Glenwood and Aspen to be in place by the end of 2001.

But four board members – Snowmass Village Town Councilman T. Michael Manchester, Eagle County Commissioner Michael Gallagher, Basalt Town Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt and Aspen’s Mayor Richards – all expressed skepticism with Blankenship’s timeline.

“Part of the basis for the RTA is to shore up existing bus service,” Richards said.

“I second those concerns,” Whitsitt said. “It’s difficult to move forward without knowing what our cash flow will be.”

The board is coping with a projected shortfall of approximately $600,000, due to a ruling last month by the state Department of Revenue that limits tax collection on automobile sales in Glenwood, and the decision last summer by the Garfield County Commissioners not to participate in the RTA.

Gallagher even went so far as to vote against Blankenship’s request for five new articulated buses.

Blankenship asked the board to use $2.3 million of the $10.2 million voters in Pitkin County approved last November to pay for transit improvements. Blankenship pointed out that orders for three new stretch buses are already in the works, and by adding five more to the order, the RTA could save several thousand dollars and have all of the buses in service and collecting fares by early next year.

“We’re looking at the effect of this purchase on the 2001 budget, but not further out to 2005, 2006 or 2007,” Gallagher said. “Do we have a long-term purchase plan and repayment plan in place?”

“To be honest,” Blankenship replied, “we don’t. We’re in a state of flux right now, but one of the things we promised voters when we were asking them to vote for the RTA was improved service. To do that we need more buses.”

The board voted 6-1, with Gallagher alone in opposition, to approve the purchase. But the board also instructed Blankenship to proceed cautiously with the service improvements, until the implications of the most recent budget setback by the Colorado Department of Revenue are better understood.


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