GLENWOOD SPRINGS — More frequent options to get to and from her job in Aspen will make the commuting life a little less frenzied for Lorena Macha of Glenwood Springs.
Before Tuesday’s launch of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, Macha said she usually had a choice of just two morning express buses from Glenwood to Aspen.
Now, the BRT express buses will leave every 12 minutes during peak morning hours, starting at 4:53 a.m. until 8:17 a.m., from the new South Glenwood bus station at 27th Street and South Glen, with corresponding connections from the West Glenwood park-and-ride.
“A lot of the time when I had to take the [local] bus, I would have to go through Carbondale and Basalt, round and round,” Macha said. “When I work, it’s nice to have more buses to get there faster.”
BRT buses will only stop at the main transit stations at Carbondale, El Jebel, Willits, Basalt, Brush Creek, the Aspen ABC and Buttermilk, before arriving at the Rubey Park station in Aspen.
Local buses running every half hour will continue to make stops at places like the CMC turnoff on Highway 82, downtown Carbondale, Blue Lake and downtown Basalt.
Likewise, the afternoon BRT schedule from Aspen begins at 2:15, with express buses every 12 minutes to Glenwood Springs until 6:30 p.m. Buses will eventually run every 10 minutes during the peak winter season.
Brent Carlsgaard, 24, of New Castle, was waiting for the local bus Tuesday to get to his classes at Colorado Mountain College in Spring Valley.
He’s part of a demographic, young adults and others who choose not to drive for a variety of reasons, that RFTA expects to attract with the new BRT system.
Carlsgaard said it’s an “affordable choice” for him to take the bus to and from class, and up to Aspen during the ski and snowboard season, rather than owning and driving a car.
“I’ll probably use it a lot during snowboarding season,” he said of the new BRT buses. “A lot of the times got moved around for the other buses, though, so that will take some getting used to.”
Jose Rubio of Rifle, who works on a food truck that serves CMC students, said he likes the new buses and bus stops that were part of the $46.2 million BRT expansion.
“It’s a good system, the bus drivers are safe and the buses are really comfortable,” Rubio said.
RFTA officials were joined by local dignitaries, federal and state transportation officials and representatives from some of the many contractors who worked on the expansion project at the ceremonial ribbon-cutting at the new South Glenwood station Tuesday morning.
“It feels good to finally get this started,” said Glenwood Springs City Councilman Ted Edmonds, who is the city’s representative on the RFTA board of directors.
“We are opening today on time and on budget,” he said in introducing RFTA’s longtime CEO, Dan Blankenship.
A little bit of time
Although ridership was light on the first day of the new BRT service, Blankenship said he expected things to pick up as word spreads and riders get used to the new schedule.
“It will take people a little bit of time to figure things out, and quite honestly we need some time to learn how it works and make adjustments,” he said. “The shoulder [fall] season gives us some time to get ready for the winter season, and make the adjustments needed for the system to work more efficiently.”
It’s been a long time coming to put the BRT system in place, Blankenship said of the decision back in 2001 to shift gears from talking about a commuter rail service in the Roaring Fork Valley to adopting the BRT concept instead.
“In a region where the ‘perfect’ is often the enemy of the good, RFTA has achieved modest success because it has not allowed its inability to achieve perfection to stand in the way of making continuous incremental improvements to its services and programs,” Blankenship said during his official remarks ushering in the new BRT era of bus service.
One of a kind
RFTA, already the largest rural transit system in the United States and the second largest transit system altogether in Colorado, now operates the first rural BRT system in the nation.
The expansion, dubbed VelociRFTA and using dinosaur logos for marketing purposes, was made possible by voter approval in 2008 of a regionwide, 0.04 percent sales tax and bonding authority. The Federal Transportation Administration also approved a $25 million federal grant for the project, which includes 13 new bus stations and 18 new buses powered by compressed natural gas.
Despite the economic downturn that hit in late 2008 and subsequent declines in sales taxes to support the existing RFTA system, the organization was able to proceed with the expansion and complete it on time, Blankenship said.
“Going forward, we face uncertainty and many challenges,” he said. “However, we can do this, because we have 35 years of experience making transit work in the region, and we now have better tools for managing RFTA than we’ve ever had before.”
Linda Gehrke, regional administrator for the Federal Transportation Administration, was also on hand for the BRT launch, and offered prepared statements by U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff.
“Residents living in rural Roaring Fork Valley need and deserve an affordable, reliable way to travel to work, and we are committed to investing in more good transit projects like this one to ensure that everyone — including residents of rural areas — has the chance to get ahead in the 21st century economy,” Foxx said.
Added Rogoff, who attended the project’s April 2012 groundbreaking, “This is going to make a huge difference in the quality of life for thousands of families who need affordable transportation choices that work for them.”
RFTA board chairman and Snowmass Village Mayor Bill Boineau also read a letter from U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, congratulating RFTA on the occasion.
Colorado Transportation Commission Chairman Douglas Aden was also on hand for the Tuesday ceremony.
He noted that the state has pumped $200 million into the Highway 82 corridor, including $6 million toward the BRT project.
“We’re not going to build any more lanes on Highway 82, and this is a tremendous accomplishment to improve the efficiency of this corridor,” he said. “It’s a credit to all the people who have been involved over the years, and who have had the vision, the foresight and the perseverance to see this through.”