RFTA plans no immediate rate hike despite gas prices | PostIndependent.com

RFTA plans no immediate rate hike despite gas prices

Despite skyrocketing gasoline prices, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority has no immediate plans to raise fares.RFTA chief executive officer Dan Blankenship said rising diesel prices have cut deeply into RFTA’s budget, but bus fares aren’t likely to increase until at least Thanksgiving, when prices for RFTA’s winter season go into effect. Today, a RFTA bus ride from Glenwood Springs to Aspen costs $6 and a ride to Rifle costs $4.In the last two years, fares have increased 3 to 5 percent annually, but with diesel costing more than $2 per gallon, Blankenship said he couldn’t estimate how much fares might increase. “A couple of years ago, we were paying under a dollar for fuel, and right now, we’re paying something over $2,” Blankenship said. “Last week when I checked on it, we were paying $2.05.”RFTA pays as much as 45 cents per gallon below the consumer pump price because the agency doesn’t have to pay the federal excise tax on diesel fuel. Even so, Blankenship said RFTA’s fuel cost could rise to $2.45 per gallon before the end of the year, a prediction that forced RFTA to make a $100,000 supplemental budget appropriation for diesel fuel. RFTA, which uses about 600,000 gallons of diesel annually, budgeted enough money to pay only $1.65 per gallon in 2005. Blankenship predicted the agency could pay as much as $2.65 per gallon in 2006. He said RFTA has considered alternative fuels, but most options aren’t feasible with its current buses. “We run a 5 percent blend of biodiesel currently, and we’ve looked at natural gas, but the technology is not all that workable for us,” he said.He said RFTA has run into problems operating buses on fuel mixed with a greater percentage of biodiesel because of the area’s high altitude. Mike Derickson, director of refined fuels marketing and operations for Cenex Corp., RFTA’s biodiesel supplier, said he cannot quote the current price for a gallon of biodiesel, but he added that biodiesel prices are historically higher than for regular diesel. As gasoline prices continue to rise, there are signs that drivers may be ditching their cars for the bus. Ridership on RFTA buses rose 4 percent in July even before Hurricane Katrina pushed prices for regular unleaded above the $3 mark. Blankenship said he doesn’t know how many more people are riding buses after the hurricane, but he predicts an increase in ridership when August statistics are compiled by mid-September. Contact Bobby Magill: 945-8515, ext. 520 bmagill@postindependent.com

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