Hogback bus service to Rifle could go under the knife | PostIndependent.com

Hogback bus service to Rifle could go under the knife

Heidi Rice
Citizen Telegram
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Citizen Telegram

RIFLE, Colorado – Although the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority has said it will not cut services or raise fares at this time, if the economic downturn should continue, it may be forced to rethink its Hogback service from Glenwood Springs to Rifle.

RFTA has seen a 21 percent decline in sales tax revenue, and fare revenues are also down a bit, according to Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship.

“We’ve developed a number of cost reduction strategies, but we’ll probably have to dig into our savings,” Blankenship said.

Some of those cost reduction strategies include a fixed cost contract for diesel fuel, reclassifying some mechanic positions and deferring some projects.

“We’ve targeted a number of things we can do to reduce costs by about $2.6 million,” Blankenship said.

However, should revenues continue to decline, it may be necessary to cut the service in western Garfield County, as has been suggested by RFTA board chairman and Glenwood Springs Mayor Bruce Christensen.

Currently, RFTA has nine members between Aspen and New Castle, including Garfield County, that contribute a portion of their sales tax revenues – from 0.4 to 1 percent – to help fund the bus service up and down the valley. Rifle is not a member of RFTA, but contributed $20,000. Silt is not a member and does not contribute. Both Rifle and Silt voters turned down ballot questions to become members of RFTA. The Hogback service is estimated to cost about $1 million per year to operate.

“All the members are pooling their resources to make the service work,” Blankenship said. “But the board has asked me to look at what might be saved and look at turning buses around in New Castle and ceasing service to Silt and Rifle. If we have to cut services somewhere, they’re looking at maybe cutting services to people who aren’t members.”

Rifle Mayor Keith Lambert said the city of Rifle has a problem with the dedicated sales tax because it doesn’t want to lose control of its taxing issues. For example, if the city needed to propose a sales tax increase to its voters and RFTA needed to do the same thing at the same time, one or both would probably lose.

“It has an impact on our overall sales tax,” Lambert said. “We want to maintain local control of our own tax dollars. We would prefer to contract with RFTA.”

And should the Hogback service be discontinued, Lambert said no one would be a winner.

“I’d be saddened to see the service to Rifle be eliminated – RFTA has been a good partner in the past,” he said. “But losing the ability to transport the workforce [upvalley] would be problematic to everyone concerned.”

Nevertheless, Lambert said he has suggested to Blankenship that the issue be put on Rifle’s 2009 municipal election ballot in September when there aren’t any other tax increase proposals. However, at this point it is too late because there’s not enough time left to campaign since the ballot questions must be finalized in July. He also suggested that there be community involvement and education before putting it on the ballot again.

“We have a good working relationship with Dan Blankenship, but we can’t respond to threats [of cutting the service],” Lambert said. “It’s unfortunate if that’s what the board feels it has to do, because the service benefits the entire valley. We provide a lot of workforce. But we can’t do anything for the time being because our hands are tied.

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