RFTA considers going ‘bare bones’ or ceasing Aspen-area bus service | PostIndependent.com

RFTA considers going ‘bare bones’ or ceasing Aspen-area bus service

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
RFTA employee Patricia Rosales Trigo, left, and lead mechanic Will Fabela disinfect a bus at the Aspen Maintenance Facility on Thursday, March 12, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority will hold a special meeting Friday to determine if it should reduce to “bare bones” service on the public bus system or cease operations altogether during the COVID-19 crisis.

The number of riders has plummeted as the threat of the coronavirus has soared. There were 19,484 riders systemwide on Saturday, March 7. That fell to 3,356 on March 21, according to a memo to the board of directors from CEO Dan Blankenship.

“Due to declining ridership and social distancing and non-essential business shutdown orders from the Governor, RFTA implemented its Phase 2 Service Reduction Plan on March 23,” the memo said. That plan reduced or discontinued various routes. RFTA needs 98 bus drivers per day for that reduced service.

Now the agency is contemplating a reduction to Phase 3, which would further cut service and reduce the need for drivers down to 48 operators per day.

RFTA reported earlier in the week it has 17 employees with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, and one driver was taken by ambulance from his Aspen residence to the hospital. The driver was immediately taken to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction for treatment. No information has been released on his condition due to privacy laws.

The bus agency has taken actions to try to protect drivers and passengers from getting infected. All buses in operation get “fogged” daily with a virucide. In addition, the front rows of seats are off limits to promote social distancing.

Despite the precautions, some drivers are scared. One driver asked why RFTA buses aren’t used to deliver goods such as groceries and medicine to the public rather than shuttling passengers back and forth to crowded stores. The drivers could drop off goods at the bus stops, the driver proposed.

“This type of change would greatly reduce person-to-person interactions,” said the driver, who asked to remain anonymous due to lack of permission to speak. “It would also help to keep as many drivers employed as possible.”

The driver also suggested City Market needs to reallocate its resources — assigning employees to the stores in the communities where they live rather than forcing someone in Rifle to commute to the El Jebel store, for example.

Blankenship and his staff noted in the memo that ridership is expected to decline even further with the stay at home order. However, public transportation is considered a critical government service. That makes it a tough call on whether or not to continue to operate.

“Staff requests the Board to determine whether RFTA should implement its bare bones Phase 3 Service Reduction Plan, effective Monday, March 30, or curtail all RFTA services, with the exception of paratransit service for older persons and persons with disabilities, effective as soon as practicable,” the memo said.

The virtual meeting will be held at 9 a.m. Friday due to the state stay at home order.


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