Fare play: RFTA looks at raising costs for trips by 10 percent | PostIndependent.com

Fare play: RFTA looks at raising costs for trips by 10 percent

Roaring Fork Transportation Authority CEO Dan Blankenship made his annual appeal to the Garfield County Commissioners for support of valleywide bus service Monday. As has been their response in the past, two of the commissioners refused to support the request.

Commissioner Tresi Houpt urged her fellow commissioners to reverse direction and give the agency some help, but commissioners John Martin and Larry McCown would not relent.

“It’s no secret to anyone that I believe we should contribute to (RFTA) operations or help with a bus stop or park and ride (lot),” she said.

“This keeps coming up. (Carbondale town trustee) Alice (Laird) comes before us every year to plead her case and Dan, you do the same thing,” McCown said. He reminded Blankenship and Laird that during the 2004 election the voters in unincorporated Garfield County turned down a proposal to fund bus service with a sales tax.

“There is no credibility given to the election. You come back asking us to fund RFTA. The county (voters) said no,” he added.

Blankenship said the agency’s cost for fuel has increased 47 percent since Hurricane Katrina shuts down the majority of oil refineries in the Gulf Coast prompting a spike in gas prices.

“People are beginning to feel the pinch,” Blankenship said and some will choose to ride the bus instead of their cars.

However, because of higher fuel and other increasing costs RFTA will have to raise fares in 2006. Instead of the usual three to four percent raise, fares will go up 10 percent, Blankenship said.

The agency budgeted about $1 million for diesel fuel this year. It likely will spend about $1.3 million to keep the fleet running, Blankenship said.

Next year, the agency anticipates fuel costs of $1.75 million. However, Blankenship said it’s nearly impossible right now to gauge prices for the next few weeks, let alone for several months.

Higher health insurance premiums and wages are also driving operating costs higher.

The net effect of raising fares 10 percent would be about $61,000 more in revenues, according to staff projections.

As an alternative to committing money to RFTA, Blankenship asked the commissioners to consider helping finance bus stops at the Colorado Mountain College turnoff at Highway 82, on both sides of the highway. He said the full cost of two shelters there would run about $50,000.

“We would not expect the county to pay for the whole thing,” he said.

But Commissioner John Martin countered that some people who live in the county and shop in the municipalities also feel they contribute to the transit taxes collected there.

The 2004 ballot question, McCown said, “was proposed by RFTA” and the people made their wishes clear.

But the county tacked on an additional 10 percent to the tax to fund trails, Blankenship said, which was one of the reasons why it did not pass.

“It was doomed to failure because the amount was too high and because some of the people voting (in unincorporated Garfield County) do not get bus service,” Blankenship said.

People voted down a dedicated sales tax, but not financing out of the county’s general fund, he said.

“I feel bad for you folks, but our fuel costs are going up comparable to yours,” McCown said. “I don’t get it or your guys don’t get it, but the people have spoken.”

However, earlier in the day, the commissioners voted to give RFTA $50,000 toward completion of a section of the Rio Grande Trail between the Catherine Store Bridge in Carbondale and Hooks Spur in Basalt. When completed, the 35-mile trail will run between Aspen and Glenwood Springs along the former Denver and Rio Grande railroad corridor.

Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510


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