The Roaring Fork Valley became home to the nation’s first rural Bus Rapid Transit system when the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority officially began operations on its new, $46.2 million BRT expansion on Sept. 3.
Dubbed VelociRFTA, with a dinosaur logo theme, the expansion included 13 new bus stations from Glenwood Springs to Aspen and 18 new buses powered by cleaner-burning compressed natural gas.
Completion of the new BRT system, which features express bus service between Glenwood and Aspen every 10 to 12 minutes during peak hours in addition to the existing local routes extending to Rifle, culminates more than a dozen years of planning and construction.
In 2001, following the acquisition of the valleywide railroad corridor a few years earlier, a feasibility study and environmental analysis concluded that an expanded bus system with more frequent service would be more cost-effective and have less impact than commuter rail service.
Funding for the bus expansion project was made possible by voter approval in 2008 of a regional, 0.04 percent sales tax and bonding authority. The Federal Transportation Administration also approved a $25 million federal grant for the project.
BRT express buses originating at the new Glenwood Springs transit station at 27th Street and Highway 82 make stops at only Carbondale, El Jebel, Willits, Basalt, Brush Creek, the Aspen ABC and Buttermilk, before arriving at the Rubey Park station in Aspen.
RFTA was already the largest rural transit system in the United States and the second largest transit system in Colorado.
About 64,000 passengers rode the new BRT buses in September, and the RFTA system as a whole hauled 173,403 passengers on the Highway 82 corridor during that first month of BRT operation, compared to 129,602 for the same month last year, a ridership increase of 34 percent.
RFTA offered free rides for the first four days that expanded bus service was available. RFTA expected ridership to increase substantially as the winter ski season hit in November and December.
A grand opening for the new BRT system on Sept. 3 drew a gathering of local dignitaries, federal and state transportation officials and representatives from some of the many contractors who worked on the expansion project.