RFTA votes for 10 percent increase in fares
CARBONDALE – To keep up with soaring fuel costs, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board voted Thursday to follow its staff’s recommendation for a 10 percent increase in bus fares starting in 2006.In the minds of most board members, the cost of diesel fuel, which has risen 50 percent since Hurricane Katrina devastated oil refineries in the Gulf Coast, outweighed the prediction that ridership would fall 4 percent due to the higher fares.Board member Dorothea Farris, a Pitkin County commissioner, said fuel costs leave the agency with little choice but to increase fares. The board’s decision came as they reviewed a draft budget for 2006, and a public hearing must still be held before the decision is official.Only Anne Freedman, who also serves as a Basalt councilwoman, opposed the hike. She said RFTA should do everything it can to avoid fare increases because they lead to lower ridership numbers.Agency CEO Dan Blankenship said the 4 percent figure was an estimate. It could be less as more people consider other transportation options, such as the bus, because of the high cost of regular gasoline, he said.If the 10 percent increase is approved, 20-punch passes would increase from $12.50 to $13.75, while a 40-punch pass would cost $27.50, up from $25. On the other end of the scale, the cost of a season pass from Glenwood Springs to Aspen would rise from $550 to $605; Carbondale-to-Aspen season passes would go from $540 to $594; and passes from El Jebel to Aspen would increase to $577, up from $525.The fare hikes would add about $61,000 extra to RFTA’s coffers, or 5 percent more revenue than was collected this year, according to figures in the draft budget. Operating costs in 2006 are expected to be nearly 10 percent higher than 2005, with higher fuel costs contributing to half of that increase.Freedman broached the subject of charging seniors, saying a “great majority can afford it.” The idea received a lukewarm response. People 65 and older now ride anywhere in the valley for free.Blankenship and Susan Atwood, RFTA’s finance director, presented the rate-increase options to the board, including the effects of a 20 percent hike. That is the optimal amount to keep pace with fuel costs and other expenses, Blankenship said. Such a hike would likely lead to a net revenue increase of about $173,000, but an 8 percent drop in ridership.The 10 percent figure that is on track to be approved is the minimum increase RFTA can take and still remain solvent, Atwood said. Current predictions in the draft analysis have the agency staying in the black at least through 2014.Also included in the budget is a 2 percent cost-of-living increase for employees, compared to a 4 percent raise this year. Farris called for that figure to be higher. Salaries overall in 2006 will be an estimated 4 percent higher as RFTA brings back merit bonuses after suspending them in 2004 and 2005.Workers will also see a 10 percent increase in health insurance benefits and 6 percent more in workman’s compensation benefits.Other expenses in next year’s budget include about $1 million for trail construction and other related work; about $420,000 for facility improvements, including park-and-ride stations; $206,000 to rebuild bus engines; and $28,000 for information technology.
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