GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - The number of riders taking the bus in Glenwood Springs since a new $1 fare was implemented last April has dropped about 60 percent.
At the same time, the fare box brought in about two-thirds of what city officials had initially projected in new revenues to support the bus system, through the initial nine months of collections.
According to a preliminary 2012 year-end Ride Glenwood report, ridership on the in-city bus system plummeted by about half as soon as the new fare was implemented by the city on April 9, 2012.
Ridership had already begun to drop about 5 percent through January, February and March when it was still free to ride the city bus.
That was partly due to elimination of the south Glenwood route and reduced service hours from the previous year, said Dave Betley, the assistant public works director for the city of Glenwood Springs.
After the fare was implemented, ridership numbers tumbled about 60 percent for the remaining nine months of the year. For the entire 12 months, ridership fell from 439,904 rides in 2011 to 249,792 in 2012, for a 43 percent drop.
"We are still reviewing the numbers and getting feedback from the [city] transportation commission and city administration," Betley said.
Betley said a full report and recommendations will be given to city council, probably in February. Fare adjustments, if any, would not be implemented until April, he said.
Recently, the transportation commission suggested going to a $1-per-day fare, rather than the current $1-per-ride fare. That would allow riders to board the bus multiple times in a day for the same fare.
The larger-than-expected drop in bus ridership is a concern, Betley said. But the city also needs to do a better job of tracking who its bus riders are, where they're going, and why.
"We don't have a good way of tracking that yet," Betley said. "Some of the new equipment we are buying will help us do that."
He pointed out that when the bus was free, there were complaints about some riders, including transients and groups of teenagers, getting on the bus with no particular destination in mind.
"We haven't received as many of those complaints," Betley said, since the fare went into effect.
Glenwood Springs Transportation Commission member Chris McGovern said one of her concerns is the drop in ridership during the summer months, and the potential impact on tourism.
"The bus system, if it runs effectively and economically for the traveling public, can help to keep and increase tourism tax dollars," she said.
For June, traditionally one of the biggest months for bus ridership, the report shows the number of riders fell from 39,504 in June 2011 to 16,411 for June of 2012, for a 58.5 percent drop.
The average number of riders per day for that month fell to 547 in 2012 from 1,317 in 2011, according to the preliminary numbers.
Ridership continued to decline by about the same percent through the peak tourism months of July, August and September, and into the fall.
When the fare was instituted, city officials projected a drop in ridership, but only by about 30 to 40 percent.
The fare was also projected to bring in between $200,000 to $250,000 per year to help offset the cost of the $1 million-per-year cost to run the bus system. The remainder of the funding comes from a dedicated portion of the city sales tax.
Based on preliminary figures for the nine months the fare has been in place, the city took in between $120,000 and $130,000, Betley said.
"We were borderline running into the black at that point [when the fare was implemented], so the idea was to shore up the bus fund," he said.
"We know the fare is a contentious issue, but there are other things to consider," he added.
For instance, additional revenues can help the city maintain the system, keep up with bus replacement and add new amenities, such as bus stop shelters. The extra dollars also serve as matching fund leverage for state and federal transportation grants.
Because the city contracts with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority to operate Ride Glenwood, fares can only be adjusted on quarterly basis, Betley said.
RFTA, which operates the valleywide bus system from Aspen to Rifle, adjusts its fares quarterly based on the seasonal fluctuations for bus ridership.