RFTA bus ridership surges in 2005 | PostIndependent.com

RFTA bus ridership surges in 2005

ASPEN ” Nearly 215,000 more people rode RFTA buses in 2005 than in the previous year, an unprecedented surge packing buses during rush hour and leaving transit officials scrambling to find solutions.

Bus ridership for the Highway 82 corridor in December alone leapt 20 percent, leaving many passengers standing in the aisle during the sometimes hour-long crawl on Main Street in Aspen. About 96,000 more people were on buses on Highway 82 in 2005 than in 2004, a 6 percent increase, according to Roaring Fork Transportation Authority figures.

The huge increase has left RFTA considering leasing buses or purchasing used ones. Dan Blankenship, the agency’s CEO, said it is difficult to add new equipment “on the drop of a hat.”

“The lead time for buying new buses might be a year to 18 months,” he said.

Last month set an all-time record for bus riders in the Highway 82 corridor. In December, 209,069 people rode RFTA on Highway 82. December accounted for almost 13 percent of the agency’s total annual ridership.

“We ask people to be patient,” Blankenship said. “This is unprecedented.”

He attributed last month’s surge to several factors. The high price of gas, multiple snowy days and higher employment levels in the valley all contributed to crowded buses, Blankenship said.

The largest overall yearly increase by far was in RFTA’s Grand Hogback service, which leapt 22 percent in December and was up 15 percent for the year. The service extends to New Castle, Silt and Rifle.

Considering the demand, RFTA has a limited number of vehicles. The buses it does have were already at or near capacity during rush hour.

“So then when you add on a huge increase, much of which is coming at the peak hours, it results in sometimes the buses being overcrowded,” Blankenship said. “People have to stand longer distances than we want them to or they want to.”

RFTA officials are not sure if they will be able to add more buses this winter. But the agency will have to at some point.

“Because what will happen, if we’re consistently seeing a lot of standees for long distances ” I’m talking about the longer hauls, say Aspen to El Jebel or Carbondale or Glenwood Springs ” eventually people will not use transit,” he said. “If we want to accommodate more ridership, then we’ll have to look at beefing up our services.”

Bus drivers, unless road conditions are treacherous, generally log whether they have people standing and how many. But RFTA also has other ways of knowing buses are too full.

“We will hear feedback from passengers who have to stand on the bus,” Blankenship said.

Aspen’s gridlock also plays a role. When it takes an hour to get from Rubey Park to Cemetery Lane, a 4:15 bus, for example, gets past the Aspen Airport Business Center at 5:15. At the bus stops, then, people waiting for the 4:15 join their 5:15 counterparts.

“So their option is to all get on that bus, pack it, somebody’s gotta stand, but be on their way home. Or to wait for the next bus, which might be another half-an-hour to an hour wait,” Blankenship said. “We do have more capacity if we could run on schedule.”

RFTA’s ridership increased across the board in 2005. In town, year-round bus service rose 1.5 percent, with the largest increase on Hunter Creek buses. About 18,000 more used that bus route in 2005 than during the previous year.

Castle-Maroon creeks service dropped 1.8 percent.

Also dropping was ridership on Woody Creek buses. About 2,400 fewer people used that service compared with 2004.

In-town seasonal service saw about 1,000 more people use the Cross Town shuttle, a 15 percent leap from 2004.

That RFTA buses in the Highway 82 corridor alone carried nearly 1.7 million people last year and carried 3.7 million riders in 2005 is “quite challenging,” Blankenship said.

“Congratulations and condolences,” Aspen Mayor and RFTA board member Helen Klanderud said dryly.

Contact Chad Abraham: chad@aspentimes.com

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