RFTA riders can expect to pay same fares in 2017
People who depend on the public bus system to navigate the Roaring Fork Valley will likely pay the same fares next year.
Staff at the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority told the board of directors Thursday the budget assumptions for 2017 include holding the line on prices. However, Budget Director Michael Yang said the plan to maintain bus fares could change as the staff and board dig deeper into the budget.
RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship said the organization will maintain the existing level of service but will have to add buses between New Castle, Silt and Rifle and the Roaring Fork Valley during the Grand Avenue Bridge closure in Glenwood Springs next year.
Traffic is already backed up on the West Glenwood exit ramp from Interstate 70 on days when the other Glenwood exit is closed or impeded by construction, he noted. All traffic will enter Glenwood Springs via the West Glenwood entrance from I-70, and the other entrance will be closed for at least 90 days next year when the bridge is replaced, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. That is expected to occur starting in late August.
“All bets are off when that bridge closes,” Blankenship said. “People are going to want to use us.”
RFTA has to rise to the occasion by making extra buses available, Blankenship said. If people try bus service and it isn’t a good experience, they will rely on personal vehicles. That will exacerbate the snarl.
RFTA plans to provide free rides on its Grand Hogback service in western Garfield County during the Glenwood bridge closure. The agency estimates it will lose $64,000 in fares from offering free rides.
Nevertheless, RFTA’s preliminary budget anticipates reaping nearly $5 million in fares in 2017. An increase of 0.5 percent is expected from increased ridership.
RFTA is looking at a $25 million operating budget for next year. The total budget — which includes service contracts, debt service and other expenses on top of operating costs — is $39.7 million.
RFTA anticipates its work force will expand to 302 employees next year from the current 293. A collective bargaining agreement ensures that the 144 full-time bus drivers will get a 4.5 percent pay increase in 2017. The bus drivers voted last year to join a union.
The other employees will be eligible for a 4 percent merit increase, but they are not assured of the raise.
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The 27th Street Underpass Bridge project design has reached 30% completion, with a final design expected to be completed by August.