Vote ‘yes’ on RFTA sales tax |

Vote ‘yes’ on RFTA sales tax

Aspen, CO Colorado

Gas prices are up and so is ridership on public buses, so it’s no wonder that the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) is asking voters for a sales and use tax increase to improve the frequency and quality of its bus service.

Politically, the timing could not be worse. The United States is facing one of the biggest economic challenges in its history, and RFTA is seeking a tax increase.

That’s because, in addition to high fuel prices and an increase in passengers, RFTA is pressed to keep pace with technology and upgrade its service to meet its riders’ demands.

Voters in Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and New Castle, as well as unincorporated Pitkin and Eagle counties, will vote on the proposal. For the measure to pass, the combined result will need to be favorable.

If approved by voters, the 0.4 percent sales and use tax increase would amount to 4 cents per $10 of taxable sales. RFTA officials say the proceeds would allow the agency to issue $44.5 million in bonds to buy 15 new buses, construct more comfortable and inviting bus stops, and invest in technology to speed fare collections and provide real-time information at stops about bus locations.

There would be more frequent buses along Highway 82, especially during rush hours, and bypass lanes and stoplight improvements would give buses an edge in traffic.

The maximum repayment would be $99.16 million, assuming a 6 percent interest rate and repayment over 30 years.

Referendum 4A is a ballot question that gives us fits. Time and again over the years voters have heard about RFTA’s financial struggles; the last tax increase was in 2004.

At the same time, RFTA reported a record number of passengers in 2007 ” 4.45 million, an increase of nearly 9 percent over 2006. And for the first half of this year ridership was up 7.5 percent, and is on pace to hit 4.75 million passengers.

This mushrooming ridership has translated into stuffed buses, buses running late, and the need for more buses and better stops.

At the end, this all comes down to a quality-of-life issue. Do we want a public bus service that squeaks by, or do we want one that is clean, efficient, timely and professionally operated? It really boils down to preferences and community standards.

Which is why we support 4A. RFTA’s success is vital to this region’s economy and quality of life. To let the service deteriorate would be a detriment to the commuters and those who opt for the greener way to travel Highway 82. And the planned improvements have a real chance of reducing congestion on 82.

We do, however, urge RFTA to consider other ways to bring in money, such as selling ads on the exterior of its buses. Granted, ad sales would not bring in the $44.5 million RFTA needs, but they are a way to raise revenues without panhandling to taxpayers. We hope RFTA could come up with others.

In the meantime, the pros of Referendum 4A outweigh the cons. On Nov. 4, vote yes on Referendum 4A.

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