A strong winter and spring has put the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority on pace to challenge its record annual ridership, according to CEO Dan Blankenship.
RFTA hauled nearly 2.02 million passengers through April, according to its latest ridership report. That is an increase of 321,029, or almost 19 percent, over the same period in 2013.
About 4.14 million passengers caught buses last year, so RFTA’s on track to eclipse that mark.
RFTA had record ridership of 4.85 million passengers in 2008. Right now, the agency is on a pace to log about 4.75 million passengers, Blankenship said.
A big chunk of this year’s increase over last year is due to the expanded service in the Highway 82 corridor. More buses are running more frequently between Aspen and Glenwood Springs as part of RFTA’s bus-rapid-transit project.
Last year, 508,262 riders caught buses delivering core service in the Highway 82 corridor. This year — with the addition of bus rapid transit — RFTA has hauled 627,324 passengers for that bread-and-butter service along the highway. That’s a 23 percent increase.
“I think it’s a good healthy number that might actually increase through the year,” Blankenship said.
Before the expanded service started in September, RFTA forecast an increase in riders on the Highway 82 corridor of about 30 percent over a two-year period. So far, that looks achievable, Blankenship said.
The number of passengers increased on several of the key routes. Ridership was up 3.57 percent, to 481,175, on bus routes within Aspen.
Ridership was up 6 percent, to 449,187, on free-ski area service paid for by Aspen Skiing Co.
Ridership on buses in Glenwood Springs also is increasing again following a drastic drop in recent years after the fare was increased to $1 per ride. The fare was reduced last year to $1 for all day. The Glenwood service has hauled 70,880 passengers through April, or about 45 percent more than the same period the prior year. However, annual ridership doesn’t appear destined to bounce back to the 2008 record of about 526,000, Blankenship said.
Higher frequency of bus service probably wasn’t the only factor behind the increase.
“We had a number of big months for a variety of reasons,” Blankenship said.
Above-average snowfall helped drive up ridership in January, February and March, he said, and a stronger economy with more jobs is attracting more commuters upvalley.
RFTA will fine-tune its new bus-rapid-transit service this summer based on what officials learned over the winter. More buses will be added to provide service during peak ridership on weekday mornings and late afternoons, Blankenship said. WiFi service was installed on 17 over-the-road coach buses, which were pressed into service during the winter to ease overcrowding during peak periods. The VelociRFTA buses that are standard in the bus-rapid-transit service hold only 35 passengers. The motor coaches hold 57 seats.