RFTA winter bus service expected to return to (near) pre-pandemic levels

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority expects to be able to return to winter service levels not seen since before the pandemic hit in March 2020 — and with fewer drivers.

That was the report from RFTA Chief Operating Officer Kurt Ravenschlag to the intergovernmental transit agency’s board of directors last week, as it prepares for the winter high season.

Ravenschlag said the RFTA service planning group has devised a winter service plan — the first since pandemic-related restrictions were lifted — that in most cases maintains or increases service levels compared to last winter, and requires fewer drivers than were needed prior to the pandemic.

The plan maintains 7- to 8-minute waits between buses (headway) for the peak morning upvalley and evening downvalley Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service between Glenwood Springs and Aspen, same as winter 2021-22.

Morning downvalley and evening upvalley service, however, will be reduced from a 10-minute headway to 15 minutes this winter. Headways during other off-peak daytime hours will also be 15 minutes, same as last winter, Ravenschlag said.

And, late-night headways are to return to 30 minutes, same as winter 2019-20 before the shutdowns. Late-night headways had been reduced to 60 minutes for the past two winters.

There’s also good news for western Garfield County commuters, who will benefit from more trips on the Grand Hogback route between Rifle and West Glenwood.

“Three of seven New Castle trips reduced in summer 2022 have been added back to the schedule to allow for a minimum of 60-minute headways throughout the entire service day,” Ravenschlag and RFTA Operations Director Ian Adams said in their report to the board.

Two additional New Castle trips will also be extended to Rifle, which is an improvement from last winter, they said.

That’s good news for commuters who rely on the Grand Hogback service to connect to the BRT.

“New Castle has not been able to truly benefit from the Destination 2040 plan service improvements,” Ravenschlag said of the service enhancements that came with a voter-approved tax increase to support RFTA in 2018.

“Overall, our plan now, unless something else happens, is we are planning to deliver a high level of winter service that customers have come to expect from pre-pandemic levels,” he said.

RFTA was also able to optimize its running times for routes, reworked layover and headway times, assess boarding levels and reduce deadhead times for buses, the memo states.

“This optimization has allowed us to reduce the number of hours needed to provide service for the winter season by roughly 100 hours per day with minimal disruption …,” it states.

In addition, the winter service plan includes:

Valley Express 

• Elimination of all 12 express trips for winter 2022 season (offset by increased BRT headways during peak times and moving to 30-minute headways for BRT from 8 p.m. until midnight). This is being done as an efficiency improvement, according to the plan. 

Snowmass Valley Direct 

• Converting all morning upvalley Snowmass express trips to Snowmass BRT trips 

• Eliminating two morning upvalley Snowmass local trips 

• Staggering afternoon downvalley BRT and local trips from Snowmass to extend regional service hours from Snowmass Mall by an additional 30 minutes. 

• Converting one afternoon downvalley BRT trip from Snowmass to a Local to align trip counts to mirror morning upvalley services, and eliminating one afternoon downvalley BRT trip from Snowmass Mall.

Ravenschlag said RFTA does not anticipate any changes to contracted services with the cities of Aspen and Glenwood Springs for in-city services, the Aspen Skiing Company for skier shuttles, or with Garfield County for the senior Traveler program.

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