RFTA not part of state’s free transit month incentive

Didn’t want to over-commit amid staffing shortages

Passengers board a RFTA bus to Glenwood from Aspen's Eighth Street bus stop on April 19. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times archive)
Aspen Times file

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, operators of the valleywide bus system, was supportive of state legislation that is providing free bus fare for the month of August but in the end decided not to participate due to staffing challenges.

Colorado this week launched its Zero Fare for Better Air initiative, providing state-funded free bus rides within 14 transit districts across the state all month long.

In addition to being aimed at getting people out of their cars and onto buses as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the initiative touts a no-cost temporary alternative to paying the current high gas prices. 

Though RFTA supported the bill that created the two-year Ozone Season Transit Grant Program this past legislative session, the agency decided not to participate, RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship said.

Inadequate bus operator staffing for the summer season prompted RFTA to pare down service levels. 

“Given that RFTA would not be in a position to operate the normally planned service levels, staff did not believe it would be advisable to promote free service at a time when capacity would already be constrained,” Blankenship said.

He said RFTA is experiencing full buses during peak summertime hours and, at times, has standing room only on its buses. 

“We did not want to offer free service and not be able to accommodate the additional ridership and potentially need to leave people waiting at the bus stops,” Blankenship said. “We would rather under-promise and over-deliver than the other way around.”

RFTA does offer several free transit services on a regular basis, including its Aspen in-city buses, buses running between Aspen and Snowmass Village, the Carbondale Circulator and the Ride Glenwood service, which is operated in conjunction with the city of Glenwood Springs.

Under the state program, Denver’s Regional Transportation District and 13 other transit districts across the state are providing a month of free bus and light rail fares this summer and next.

All but one of the participating transit agencies are located on the Front Range. The only Western Slope bus service that is participating is Durango Transit. 

The Zero Fare for Better Air initiative is being administered by the Colorado Energy Office through the two-year Ozone Season Transit Grant Program. The program is part of the state’s broader effort to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas pollution emissions, while also providing an incentive for people to consider public transit.

Blankenship said RFTA may decide to apply for one of the free-fare grants next summer, if it’s successful in being fully staffed this coming winter and into the summer of 2023.

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