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Ridership exploding

Post Independent/Kara K. Pearson
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What a ride 2006 is turning into for Ride Glenwood Springs.It was only two months ago that the city’s bus service cracked the 30,000 mark for monthly ridership. Now, it’s threatening to break 40,000.Ridership reached 33,626 in June, and then soared yet again to 39,058 in July.”We’re kind of breaking records every month,” said Dan Blankenship, executive director of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, which contracts with the city to run its bus service.The service has provided 204,736 rides this year through July. That means this month it should break the record ridership of about 226,000 set in 1999, when the service was also free. After charging fares for several years, Ride Glenwood became free again early in 2005.Blankenship thinks this year’s ridership will end up totaling between 325,000 and 350,000.”Things have really, really taken off. It’s incredible when you see that growth,” he said.Free ridership is a big reason for the growth, said Blankenship.”But to see that rate of increase is I think a bit unusual,” he said.Last year, for example, even with free service restored, ridership through July was little more than half of what it has been this year.Ride: see page A2Blankenship said it has helped that the city has been able to stick with a consistent schedule in recent months, after tinkering with service frequency and routes.”They’ve kind of let it ride for a while so people have gotten used to it,” he said.The high cost of gas also has been a major factor. So have high employment rates that have increased use of the service by commuters, Blankenship said. Also, commercial growth in the area, such as the opening of Glenwood Meadows last fall, has given people more businesses to travel to, providing yet another reason to ride the bus.RFTA is seeing ridership increases in other areas it serves, also. For example, its free Aspen in-town service is up 8 percent in passenger use so far this year. But Glenwood’s growth is in its own league and is helping to justify the city’s investment in a service that just a few years ago drew scrutiny from City Council because of its low level of use at the time.”I think what they have now is a good base for which to plan for the future. They have a winner right now, a successful service that really has grown considerably over the past year in terms of ridership,” Blankenship said.Council member Dave Merritt continues to call for council to restore service to south Glenwood Springs. Service was cut there when council decided to limit routes to central corridors while eliminating fares in hopes of boosting ridership.Meanwhile, some tourist-based businesses want service frequency increased so buses visit each stop every 20 minutes. The city had tried that for a while but it didn’t prove feasible with current resources. Businesses have even talked about launching a tourist shuttle that would provide 20-minute service frequency to core areas.Blankenship said the current growth in ridership has created some challenges for the city and RFTA. RFTA has been running routes with its bigger, 40-passenger buses in conjunction with a new, smaller city vehicle to try to prevent buses from filling up.”I think it’s a good problem to have,” said Blankenship, who doesn’t think ridership will level off any time soon.”I think the reality is that those numbers can continue to climb for some period of time,” he said.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com


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