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RFTA recovering riders after 2 years of losses

Janet Urquhart / The Aspen TimesBicyclists load their bikes onto a RFTA bus in Aspen Tuesday evening. Bus ridership through April was up 6.2 percent.
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Ridership on the Roaring Fork Valley’s bus system is finally climbing this year after it tumbled during the recession.

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) reported a 6.2 percent increase through April 2011 compared to the same period last year. RFTA hauled 1.78 million passengers over the January-to-April period this year compared to 1.68 million for the same four months last year. That is an increase of 104,022 rides.

RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship credited an improving economy in the valley as the chief factor in the increase. RFTA’s sales-tax revenues – which are collected from all towns between Aspen and New Castle as well as Pitkin County and Eagle County – were up about 5 percent through March. That suggests business picked up, Blankenship said. He believes businesses hired more workers last winter, generating more bus riders.



High gas prices have also driven people to public transportation, he said. Gas prices remain above $4 per gallon in much of the valley.

RFTA has experienced wild fluctuations in ridership in recent years. The agency exceeded 4 million riders annually between 2006 and 2009, with a record of 4.85 million in 2008. Then the recession came along. Ridership fell 12 percent in 2009 and another 8.4 percent last year.



The improvement this year is coming from several segments of RFTA’s service. Skier buses that operated under contract with the Aspen Skiing Co. saw business increase 8.85 percent last winter or by 32,277 riders.

Commuter buses along the Highway 82 corridor carried 4.57 percent more passengers through April, an increase of 30,308 rides.

Service within Aspen is up 2 percent while service in Glenwood Springs is up nearly 17 percent. Blankenship said Glenwood officials contracted with RFTA to take on additional service in 2011, so that number is slightly skewed.

In addition, buses providing service for the popular Winter X Games hauled an additional 10,661 passengers this year.

Service on the Grand Hogback, between Glenwood Springs and Rifle, was down 7 percent or about 1,506 rides. Senior van service also fell.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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