Buses finally will roll to Rifle
Westward Ho! Two months from today, Roaring Fork Transportation Authority buses will begin providing service from Glenwood Springs to New Castle, Silt and Rifle.
The decision to begin westward service was approved at a RFTA board meeting Thursday. The service will begin on Monday, April 15.
RFTA Director Dan Blankenship said cost savings from opening the new bus facility in Glenwood Springs will be enough to fund the new route.
The bus facility will save money for RFTA by terminating bus routes in Glenwood Springs, eliminating the need to drive empty buses back to Carbondale after their rounds are completed.
According to RFTA planning director Mike Davis, this eliminated the need for purchasing four buses, saving around $1.2 million.
The board approved four round-trips between Glenwood Springs and Rifle, seven days a week. There will be two rides in the morning and two in the afternoon.
Although the schedule, route and fares aren’t finalized, preliminary plans were released on Thursday. (See related story, page 14.)
“We’re going to meet with staff tomorrow and start the planning process,” Davis said Thursday. “I think we have good support and I think it’s going to be a big success.”
Representatives from downvalley municipal governments, especially the Glenwood Springs City Council, have been pressuring RFTA in recent months to get the westward service started. They said promises of westward service were made during the RTA tax funding election in November 2000 and insisted the referendum wouldn’t have passed without it.
As a result of that election, Glenwood Springs became a donor city, meaning that, on the whole, its percentage of funding is substantially higher than its rate of ridership.
At the meeting, Glenwood Springs RFTA Board member Dan Richardson said Glenwood Springs upped its funding by more than $1 million as a result of the RFTA vote. Board member Randy Vanderhurst concurred, saying the RTA sales tax measure wouldn’t have passed in Carbondale, either, without the expanded service.
“This is a big condition of our involvement,” Richardson said. “It’s our feeling that our own contribution to RFTA, just as Randy’s contribution to RFTA, is to help with the service west of us.”
Despite the downvalley outcry, there was some talk among the board of calling the service “provisional” and of possibly discontinuing it if money from the downvalley towns and cities – or from Garfield County – isn’t pitched in soon. Some on the board called this a threat, while others insisted it was just the economic reality of a cash-strapped organization.
“I couldn’t get comfortable with the money aspect of this,” said RFTA Board chairman T. Michael Manchester of Snowmass Village.
RFTA board member Michael Gallagher, who represents Eagle County, also expressed budgetary concerns and asked whether fares should be higher for those communities that don’t provide funding.
“I support service on Interstate 70, but at the same time, I support participation by those entities who are being well served,” he said. “We need to make it clear up front that they need to look at becoming a part of it.”
Pitkin County RFTA board member Shellie Roy suggested that rather than threatening to pull the service, the board ask each municipality to pitch in for the service.
Roy suggested trying to garner funding from the municipalities of New Castle, Silt and Rifle rather than trying to get it from Garfield County.
“Because our sales taxes are declining, we can’t afford to subsidize this leg,” she said.
Basalt RFTA board representative Jacque Whitsitt said the board already had planned to go to Garfield County to request funding. She also reminded the board that aside from Aspen and Pitkin County, all cities that now have bus service started out without paying.
“The reality is this is how we all got service in the beginning,” she said.
Factoring in fare revenues, the initial cost estimate for the route from April through December 2002 is about $110,000, Davis said. The cost for a full year of service in 2003 is estimated at $157,000.
Glenwood Springs City Councilman Don Gillespie said it’s about time the westward service was initiated.
“I’m very happy, but I wish it had been in December,” he said. “We’ll definitely hold them to it in April. We’ll see how it works out.”
The low number of daily trips also is somewhat discouraging, he said.
“I guess the only way to judge it is to see what the volume is. I guess the people in New Castle, Silt and Rifle will tell us whether it’s enough,” Gillespie said.
Glenwood Springs City Councilman Dave Merritt said he was pleased that the service is finally being implemented, adding that it’s best to start with few routes and add on from there.
“I think it’s great. We’ve been pushing for it and trying to get them to move on this,” Merritt said. “Look at when we first got bus service going up the Roaring Fork Valley, it was just a few trips. We need to demonstrate that we’ve got the ridership and we need to phase into this.”
RFTA Board member Tony Hershey, who represents Aspen, agreed with the downvalley politicians.
“If we serve Rifle, that helps Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale,” Hershey said. “(The I-70 service) was a promise. I don’t think the voters of Glenwood Springs would have approved it without that service.”
Thursday’s meeting also marked the first official function in the Glenwood Springs RFTA bus facility. The facility is slated to be fully operational by the April.
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