Garfield commission cool to cash for expanded Hogback bus service | PostIndependent.com

Garfield commission cool to cash for expanded Hogback bus service

Bus riders catch the bus to New Castle, Silt and Rifle at the Hogback bus stop near the Hotel Colorado.

Garfield County commissioners this week all but rejected a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority request for money to continue the Grand Hogback route's expanded schedule into 2018.

Since the Grand Avenue bridge project detour has been in place, RFTA has significantly increased the number of trips along its Hogback route into western Garfield County.

Commissioners referred the RFTA request to the county budget committee. However, Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, who is on the budget committee, said confidently Monday that it simply isn't going to happen.

RFTA ridership along this route has boomed since the Grand Avenue bridge detour went into effect Aug. 14, and the transit authority anticipates that many western Garfield County riders will want to continue taking the bus, boosting the Hogback route's ridership even after the new bridge is complete.

"We have increased the schedule so that it's significantly more convenient than it would normally be," especially during peak times during the mornings and afternoon, said Dan Blankenship, CEO of RFTA.

If that expanded schedule doesn't get additional funding, it will end on Dec. 9, which Blankenship said "might be kind of an abrupt ending to a service they've grown accustomed to and would like to see continue."

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In the first 18 days of the detour, RFTA reports that the Hogback buses transported more than 18,500 riders. Blankenship estimated about 14,000 of those were new riders on the route. The expanded schedule that Blankenship proposed would nearly double the number of bus trips along the Hogback Route.

Blankenship's proposal listed a couple of options: fund the expanded Hogback schedule through 2018, or only through the winter, giving RFTA and commissioners the opportunity to size up how the new schedule is performing. Paying for the expanded Hogback schedule from Dec. 9 through 2018 would cost an additional $722,000, while cost only through the winter would be $235,000.

In either case, that would be in addition to the more than $700,000 that RFTA is requesting from Garfield County for status-quo services in 2018.

The county's budget committee has in recent weeks been in the process of cutting department budgets, and the budget committee is ready to propose a balanced 2018 budget, said Jankovsky. But the budget will no longer be balanced if $722,000 or $235,000 is added, he said. Paying for the expanded Hogback route schedule would undermine that work, and the difference would have to come from the skin of some other department, he said.

Blankenship acknowledged Monday morning that he wasn't giving commissioners much time to make a decision. A RFTA memo to the board said that commissioners would have to make a decision that day to give RFTA enough time to prepare its winter schedule.

Jankovsky said that it might make sense to fund the expanded schedule through the end of 2017, which would cost the county $38,000, "so there is a transition through the end of the year."

"But beyond that we just don't have the funds," he said.

Blankenship said he would get back to commissioners on whether continuing the expanded schedule through December would make logistical sense, given RFTA's scheduling needs.

Additionally, RFTA is requesting a 4-percent increase in annual contribution from Garfield County, for its status-quo service level. Commissioners gave RFTA $703,000 for its 2017 contribution (and another $25,000 toward the expanded bus services during the bridge detour). So a 4-percent increase would put the county's contribution at about $731,000, which the budget committee will also take into consideration.

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