RTA supporters see a multitude of benefits
Support for the proposal to form a valleywide transportation district, known as an RTA, is widespread, at least in the geographical sense.
Supporters can be found in every community in the valley, from Aspen to Glenwood Springs. Some of the faces included in the advertisements urging voters to support the proposal include Aspen City Councilman Tony Hershey, Basalt Town Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt, Pitkin County Commissioner Dorothea Farris, Carbondale activist Randy Udall, Garfield County Commissioner Walt Stowe and Glenwood Springs banker Don Vanderhoof.
Voters in seven out of the valley’s eight jurisdictions are being asked to vote on the proposal – Referendum 4B or 4C. If there is enough support in enough communities, a new taxing district will be formed to fund and manage bus service throughout the valley.
The RTA supporters see a number of benefits to the proposal. One of the biggest reasons for approving the RTA, say backers, is the basic fact that public transportation has become an issue of regional importance.
RFTA, the existing bus agency, was initially formed to serve people living and working in the upper valley, and it still receives 87 percent of its funding from taxes collected in Aspen and Pitkin County. These days, however, about 40 percent of the ridership on RFTA buses occurs outside Pitkin County.
According to statistics compiled by RFTA, 59 percent of the people who get on a bus in Glenwood Springs get off before it leaves Basalt. The same holds true for 54 percent of the ridership from the unincorporated areas of Garfield County and 43 percent of the people who get on the bus in Carbondale.
“We’re all in the same situation here – every community needs to get people back and forth to work,” says Glenwood Springs Councilwoman Mary Steinbrecher. “To put all of the financial onus on one community – Aspen – just isn’t fair. We should all be responsible and pay for transit throughout the valley.”
Ask Steinbrecher – or just about anyone else supporting the RTA – and she’ll tell you expanded service is another big reason to vote for the proposal. Aspen Councilman Hershey says the same thing: “Think of the good bus system that we could turn into a great bus system with the expanded service.”
Currently, RFTA runs buses from El Jebel to Aspen every half-hour. Buses leave Carbondale once an hour and Glenwood Springs once every two hours. If the RTA passes, service from Glenwood and Carbondale would increase to twice an hour, and during peak hours in the winter, service from El Jebel to Aspen would increase from two to four runs an hour. The plan also calls for extending hourly service down the Colorado River Valley to Silt, New Castle and Rifle.
To pay for the extra service, the RTA proposal calls for increasing the sales tax in Glenwood Springs and Carbondale by four-tenths of 1 percent, or 40 cents on a $10 purchase, and in Basalt by two-tenths of 1 percent.
The remainder of the funding for the RTA would come from existing taxes in Eagle County, Pitkin County and Aspen, although Aspen voters are being asked to approve a visitor tax that would add 1 percent to the cost of hotel rooms. Half the visitor tax would be used to pay for local bus service in Aspen, allowing a greater proportion of the town’s transit sales taxes to be devoted to the service between different communities.
RTA supporters also say that increased bus service would result in less congestion and safer roads.
RFTA estimates indicate that if service is expanded with the RTA, there will be 1,500 fewer cars on the highway each day. RFTA currently takes about 3,500 cars off the road, according to statistics kept by the bus agency. Without the RTA, supporters say, the existing levels of bus service are going to be difficult to maintain, much less expand.
Steinbrecher says getting people off the roads and on to the bus makes it easier for everybody, including the people who choose or are required to drive. “Less cars means less road rage,” she said.
Hershey and Garfield County resident Steve Smith also point out that the RTA is a perfect vehicle for instituting more cooperation between governments up and down the valley.
“It supports the whole notion that the different communities in this valley can work together on a big project that we have in common,” Smith said. “Transportation is the thing that all the communities in this valley have in common.”
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