Rifle approves $20,000 funding increase for RFTA in 2024

Due to an increase in ridership, some RFTA buses have been nearing seating capacity.
Laurine Lassalle/Aspen Journalism

Rifle City Council approved a motion for a $20,000 increase in funding for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority in their 2024 budget. 

The increase to their already budgeted $20,000 means a total of $40,000 will be contributed to RFTA from the city of Rifle, pending final approval of the 2024 budget. 

Dan Blankenship, chief executive officer for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, requested the additional funding for 2024 at the Oct. 18 Rifle City Council meeting. 

“I think the last time we got an increase in the funding for the traveler was about $20,000. I think we went from ($10,000) to ($20,000) and I think that was in 2008,” Blankenship said during his presentation. “But we haven’t asked for anything in the past so it’s really on RFTA.” 

“I believe that due to the rising costs that we’re all experiencing, particularly during COVID, where we’ve seen really unprecedented increases in cost of labor, for us, bus operators are in short supply,” Blankenship added. “Everything has really, really gone up.” 

Blankenship credited his idea to ask for an increase in funding to a story he saw from the Post Independent and Rifle Citizen Telegram about the Parachute Area Transit System requesting more funding from the city of Rifle. 

“I thought, well, maybe I could do that as well,” Blankenship said. 

Despite the correlation, he said he wanted to make it clear that he was not trying to compete with PATS in any way or diminish the increase in funding they’d been promised. 

“I don’t want to be seen that I’m vying for some of the funding that they got,” Blankenship said. “I’m looking for $20,000 from some other source if the council has it in their budget to be able to allocate to RFTA next year.” 

This year, RFTA is on track to hit an estimated 186,000 rides on the Hogback service, which travels from Glenwood Springs to and from New Castle, Silt, and Rifle. This would be an increase of 41,000 rides provided by the service compared with 2022, according to Blankenship. 

“We’re on a trajectory to see it go up; however, because of our labor shortage, we’re really not looking to increase service next year,” Blankenship said. 

Blankenship also said that many of the buses are nearing capacity for seats, meaning that passengers have needed to stand on the bus to get to where they’re going. 

To paint the picture further, many of the riders may not have an alternative method of transportation for a variety of reasons, including cost to ride, not having a driver’s license, scheduling, parking, among others. 

Most of the riders originate from Glenwood Springs, with only 22% of the riders being from Rifle, Blankenship said in his presentation. RFTA is planning on cutting down on the number of trips between Glenwood Springs and New Castle next year in response to a decrease in riders for those destinations. 

“We had a plan to really get up to something close to a half-hour service between New Castle and Glenwood Springs throughout the day,” Blankenship said. “Then we had COVID, and so we cut way back. Then last year we started ramping up the service again, (but) we didn’t hit the original target number of trips, and this year we’re cutting back I think by somewhere between eight or 10 trips between Glenwood Springs and New Castle during the day.” 

Despite anticipated slower growth next year, with RFTA expecting to hit 190,000 riders, the estimate for RFTA’s cost of the service in 2024 based on the second draft of their budget is $4.1 million. 

Prior to the pandemic, Garfield County was providing $760,000 a year in funding. During the pandemic, because they forecasted losing revenue, they cut their contribution back to $500,000 a year going into 2022. In 2023, their contribution was $550,000. 

Blankenship’s goal is to restore Garfield County’s funding contributions to the original $760,000. He said he believes that if the city of Rifle’s contributions to RFTA go up in 2024, Garfield County will be more willing to increase funding on their end. 

“Our costs certainly haven’t gotten any lower and I’m sure (Garfield County’s) haven’t either … But when I approach the council or the commissioners to talk to them about them either providing funding or increasing funding, they typically ask, ‘Well, what’s Rifle chipping in?’ and I say ‘Well, $20,000,'” Blankenship said. “If I could give them an indication that it was going up next year, that might help with my discussion that I’m having with them because they don’t need any additional reasons to not provide the funding that we’re asking for. They’re pretty good at saying no.” 

Blankenship formally asked Rifle City Council members on Oct. 18 if they would consider increasing their funding for RFTA in the 2024 budget from $20,000 to $40,000. 

“So, 37,000 (riders) a year from Rifle. That’s 101 riders per day going one way and 101 coming back,” Mayor Pro Tem Brian Condie said. “And $20,000, that’s $198 per year per rider, or 54 cents a day to help a hundred of our citizens go up-valley. So even if we double that to a dollar a day, I’m fine with that.” 

The council expressed some reservations given the timing of the request, as Rifle City Council is getting close to approving their final 2024 budget. However, the motion to include an additional $20,000 for RFTA in the Rifle 2024 budget, totaling to a $40,000 contribution, passed with a 2/3 majority, with Councilor Chris Bornholdt and Councilor Clint Hostettler both voting no. 

The additional $40,000 in funding toward RFTA will be included in the newest draft of Rifle’s 2024 proposed budget. 

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