Guest commentary: RFTA board chair gives reasons, support for Question 7A | AspenTimes.com

Guest commentary: RFTA board chair gives reasons, support for Question 7A

George Newman
Guest commentary

"On Board with RFTA" is the campaign for question 7A on this November's ballot. 7A is a 2.65-mill property tax question, along with bonding authority.

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority's board of directors unanimously placed the property-tax question on the November ballot in the six municipalities and two counties that make up the authority's service area.

RFTA transports more than 5 million passengers per year. It is the second-largest transit system in Colorado, the largest rural transit system in the U.S., and the first rural transit agency to construct and operate a Bus Rapid Transit system. RFTA provides commuter bus service from Aspen to Glenwood Springs (Roaring Fork Valley), Rifle to Glenwood (Hogback), intra-city service in Aspen and Glenwood Springs, free service between Aspen and Snowmass Village, skier-shuttle service to the four Aspen Skiing Co. ski areas, the Maroon Bells guided bus tours, Aspen Music Festival and a variety of other special-event services (i.e. Winter X Games).

In addition, RFTA is responsible for preserving 34 miles of the Rio Grande Trail corridor for a future mass-transit system and, in the interim, maintaining its use as a recreational trail.

RFTA's primary funding source is sales taxes; however, these cannot be increased because several jurisdictions are at their maximum 1 percent amount allowed for transit use by state law.

In addition, raising fares would not meet the current and future needs. Statistically, for every 10 percent increase in fares, ridership declines by 4 percent, thereby yielding RFTA only about 60 percent of the revenue. If the RFTA communities want more people to ride buses to reduce automobile congestion and free up parking for customers, a substantial fare increase would be counter productive. Ultimately, even doubling fares would generate significantly less revenue than the $9 million annually needed to fund the 2.65 mill levy Destination 2040 plan.

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The long-term sustainability of RFTA requires an additional source of funding, one that is not as volatile as sales taxes.

This year's ballot initiative addresses that with a conservative mill levy of 2.65, translating to about $81 per year for a residential property valued at $500,000. A commercial property valued at $1 million would pay an estimated $768 annually.

Funding from 7A will allow RFTA to implement its Destination 2040 plan to reduce congestion, improve mobility, increase service, maintain trails, and make safety and environmental improvements in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys. Destination 2040 was developed over the past two years, with extensive input from local governments and communities to achieve these goals:

Replace obsolete buses with more efficient and environmentally sustainable vehicles including electric buses.

Increase evening, night and weekend service during the winter and summer seasons and weekdays in the offseasons for local and BRT routes.

Regularly maintain the Rio Grande Trail and help construct the LOVA multi-use trail downvalley.

Increase safety and mobility with pedestrian crossings, bike sharing, improved bus stations and additional park and rides.

Every RFTA community and the entire region will benefit from Destination 2040. Without voter approval of 7A, RFTA will likely be forced to reduce regional services by as much as 20 percent in just a few years in order to replace its aging buses as a priority. Expanded local and BRT service will not be possible. Infrastructure/pedestrian safety enhancements and maintenance for the Rio Grande trail will be curtailed. A projected population increase of as much as 40 percent by 2040 which includes employment growth, as well as housing development, will place more demands on our limited roadways and RFTA's services.

Approval of 7A is essential for our valley's future, our economy and our environment. Vote "yes" on 7A and you will be helping RFTA prepare to meet the traffic, mobility and environmental challenges facing the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys.

Even if you don't use RFTA, by taking thousands of cars off the road means those who need to use a vehicle benefit by less congestion and a safer ride. One only has to wonder what our valley would look like without the services of RFTA and the Rio Grande recreational trail it provides. For more information, visit http://www.onboard withrfta.org.

Vote "yes" on 7A. Some of us ride it. All of us need it.

George Newman is the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority's board of directors chairman and a Pitkin County commissioner. For the 2018 elections, The Aspen Times is allowing space for the candidates and ballot question sides to submit a guest commentary.

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