Cooperative paratransit service ‘The Traveler’ could lose city of Rifle as member

The Traveler serves senior riders from Parachute to Aspen. Rifle City Council is looking at ways to cut costs for the service.
Submitted photo |

The city of Rifle could break away from a bussing agreement that serves seniors and people with disabilities from Parachute to Carbondale and replace it with their own service at a lower cost to the city.

Seniors and people with disabilities use a transportation service to get to and from destinations within a 55-mile corridor between Parachute and Carbondale.

Called The Traveler, the seven-party, intergovernmental bussing service agreement between Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, Garfield County and its cities helps provide thousands of rides each year. From point A to point B, riders are taken to places like doctors offices and other critical services.

Following a Wednesday Rifle city workshop, however, a paratransit study completed by Ross Peterson of Access and Mobility Solutions revealed that Rifle could optimize costs by breaking off from the memorandum of understanding.

After questioning whether they’re paying too much for the service, city council authorized the Traveler Steering Committee, as well as Peterson, to assess costs and provide the study.

One finding: Peterson said ridership is actually quite low among Rifle residents, which makes each trip more costly. In fact, 2019 saw 5,828 unlinked trips – or, total boardings on a single vehicle – taken by Rifle residents, with an average trip distance of 2.6 miles.

Yet, in that same year the city allocated $118,022 to support the countywide bussing service, while Glenwood Springs paid the most out of neighboring cities at $146,861.

New Castle and Carbondale, cities which provided a combined total of 5,992 unlinked trips that same year, each contributed less than $15,000. According to Peterson’s study, New Castle’s accumulated an average trip distance of 13.6 miles while Carbondale notched 5.9.

“The current cost-sharing methodology we’ve used in the seven-party MOU results in Rifle and Glenwood Springs carrying more of the program,” Peterson said. “You’re paying more on a per-trip basis than your peers are.”

With Rifle looking to reduce operating costs to $100,000 or less, Peterson presented two options: either modify the seven-party memorandum of understanding to help limit Rifle’s investment or break off from the agreement altogether and have the city start its own transportation service.

If in fact the city opts to remain in the memorandum of understanding, one suggestion the study provided is that participating parties agree to modify costs based on the number of trips as well as their duration and length. 

This means New Castle and Carbondale would incur more than quadruple the annual cost for continuing the service.

Had this new cost modification approach been implemented in 2019, New Castle would have contributed $53,870 instead of $11,451. Meanwhile Carbondale would have paid $24,134 instead of $7,573.

The new plan would also see county subsidies, as well as Glenwood Springs’ annual contribution to the service, decrease by nearly $40,000 per year.

Another route Rifle could take if they remain in the memorandum of understanding would be to cut service days down from 5 to 3.

“We are asking every department to cut back,” Councilor Brian Condie said in response to the option. “And, are we going to keep this premium level of service, or since we’re offering it, can we ask the seniors also to help us out? That’s the question. “

“And since we have such low ridership, maybe three days is all we really need,” he added.

But, according to Rifle planning director Nathan Lindquist, prior conversations with RFTA regarding such an option would mean having to respond to potential complaints.

“If you do it that way, everything’s fine with us – you’re only paying $100,000,” Nathan said, relaying to the council what RFTA told him. “But, just tell us who we can send the angry seniors to talk to, because we don’t want to be taking the brunt of that.”

On the flipside, creating an in-house service would result in an increased cost to riders. Today, the wheel-chair accessible, curb-to-curb service encourages riders to contribute $2 per ride within town and $3 for town-to-town services. Meanwhile, the city would also look to gain additional revenue by incorporating transportation network companies like Lyft and Uber into the fleet.

Even with this option, said Peterson, the city would still have to reduce service to three days per week.

“My recommendation would be to stay within the regional system and make it better,” Peterson said.

Rifle City Council plans to further address Traveler costs and analyses over the remainder of the year.

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