Parachute Area Transit System calls on Rifle for more funding

Rifle City Council informally OKs funding request, pending final budget approval

A PATS shuttle transports passengers in Parachute.
Taylor Cramer/Post Independent

The town of Parachute is calling on Rifle to provide financial support for their transportation system.

In September, the town of Parachute shared a memo with Rifle City Manager Tommy Klein formally requesting that the city of Rifle include funds for the Parachute Area Transit System (PATS) in their 2024 budget.

Historically, a majority of PATS’ operating costs have been provided by Garfield County and the town of Parachute, with Garfield County contributing $300,000-$250,000 annually and Parachute contributing $75,000-$100,000 annually, according to the memo.

The reason given for Parachute’s funding request to Rifle is PATS’ efforts to keep up with rising costs. The transportation service is seeking a one-time contribution of $40,000 in 2024 from the city of Rifle. An additional contribution of $250,000 will also be requested from Garfield County for the same year, according to the memo.

“We kindly request the city’s support and future partnership in PATS, and respectfully request the city of Rifle include $40,000 in your 2024 budget preparation process to contribute towards PATS,” the memo reads.

The Parachute Area Transit System was established in 2020 and services stops throughout Parachute, Battlement Mesa and Rifle. Currently, Rifle stops make up for approximately 32% of rides given on PATS shuttles.

“The goal was to kind of fill a missing link and void in the western end of the Garfield County area for public transit,” Parachute Town Manager Travis Elliott said. “At the time, the folks that were working on the project and leaders in the county kind of looked at what it would take to extend RAFTA all the way to Parachute. And that, for various reasons, just wasn’t determined to be a feasible solution at the time. So PATS kind of emerged as that solution to fill that existing need.”

PATS ridership has increased significantly since 2020. The increase from 5,175 total riders in 2021 to 2023’s estimate of over 9,000 shows a jump of almost 74%. Even though fare revenue only accounts for roughly 3.4% of their budget, PATS has attempted to keep fare costs for riders to a minimum, even offering discounted rates offered to veterans and seniors.

“The increase in ridership can be attributed to several factors, including enhanced route coverage, improved frequency, and the introduction of innovative features such as real-time route information in mobile apps and seamless integration with regional transit networks – such as RFTA,” the memo reads.

What exactly the requested funds from Rifle and Garfield County will be used for can be categorized into three key areas listed in Parachute’s memo to Rifle: operational costs, capital equipment and accessibility and outreach.

Operational funds could go toward vehicle maintenance, fuel, personnel salaries and administrative overhead. Capital equipment costs could fund improving aging vehicles, while accessibility costs could promote accessibility features and help promote awareness of the service to the community.

“When it boils down to it, costs are going up,” Elliott said. “We’ve seen the cost of fuel take a huge jump. The transit system is now approaching the point in its life where we need to start thinking about replacing the buses that were purchased in 2019, and meanwhile, our main source of revenue, which is the annual contribution from Garfield County and the contribution from the town of Parachute, is flat.”

Elliott emphasized the creative approaches PATS has taken over the years to keep costs down, including a regional fleet fuel station. At the end of the day, however, costs are still going up.

“Our goal is to keep that contribution level, but with rising costs, the budget is getting tighter and tighter each year,” Elliott said.

Additionally, PATS plans to pursue different grant opportunities in 2024 that might aid in alleviating future up-front costs.

According to Elliott, there have been no reservations from the city of Rifle about their request. He anticipates that Parachute’s funding request will be formally approved before the end of the year.

If approved, PATS would receive the funding sometime in 2024.

“I’m extremely grateful for that,” Elliott said. “It’s a great example of regional collaboration, and I think it falls in line with a lot of the city of Rifle’s goals as well as ours.”

Parachute’s funding request was first discussed during a Sept. 20 Rifle City Council meeting. The discussion of whether to formally approve the request will take place in December.

“I think you’ll see increased cooperation and partnership between municipalities and Western Garfield County as we move into the future,” Klein said.

Elliott said that because the transportation system is still young, it might face growing pains in the future. However, he remains confident about their partnership with Rifle.

“We’re pretty optimistic and excited about what the future might hold with that, especially as different partners like Rifle see the value of the system,” Elliott said. “I think that’s a good testament to the system that it’s been successful and is being used.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.