Slumping revenues may force RFTA to straighten out bus service |

Slumping revenues may force RFTA to straighten out bus service

In an attempt to offset slumping fare-box revenues, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority likely will trim off-season bus service between El Jebel and Aspen.

Direct free service between Snowmass Village and Aspen, which was cut back in December, could be reduced again next year.

The cost-saving ideas were proposed by RFTA director Dan Blankenship Thursday at a meeting of RFTA’s Operations and Performance Oversight Committee.

He proposed to cut night-time service between El Jebel and Aspen from half-hourly to hourly for 55 days in spring and 80 days in fall. Buses would cut down to hourly service from 8:45 p.m. until routes are finished for the night.

The Aspen and Snowmass Village direct routes were cut from every 15 minutes to every half hour after 5 p.m. in December and Blankenship said if the economic downturn continues, the cut will again be in effect next winter.

The proposed cuts come in the wake of what Blankenship called “disturbing” information about a severely downward trend in overall ridership during the 2001-2002 ski season.

“The trend in ridership is continuing, and that’s what concerns me,” Blankenship said. “Some decisions are going to have to be made.”

If the loss is as much as predicted – as much as a 10 percent downturn in the purchase of passes and bus fares already this year – the off-season route cuts could be just the beginning.

Another troublesome fact brought up by Blankenship is that if the numbers hold true, it will be extremely difficult to make them up later this year. The bus system generates the majority of its fare revenue from December through March.

Thus far this year, estimates show that RFTA’s total operating revenue could be down more than $345,000, a 2.4 percent shortfall from expected revenues.

To add to RFTA’s troubles, Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud said the city might cut some free in-city bus service, a move that would nullify contracts between Aspen and RFTA and take another bite out of RFTA’s bottom line.

Other cuts proposed by Blankenship included the possibility of running just one bus to the Maroon Bells from Aspen Highlands Village rather than Rubey Park. Last year, two buses ran, one from each location.

Other suggested cost-cutting measures include reducing off-season training for existing drivers and reducing staff hours worked.

Blankenship also proposed about $147,000 worth of revenue boosters, including Grand Hogback Route fares and insurance contributions from Aspen. Including cost cutting measures and revenue augmentations, the total savings could amount to about $300,000.

“We’re just looking to save as much money as we can without it being too painful,” Blankenship said.

In yet another bleak prediction, Blankenship produced a financial forecast document showing that, according to revenue expectations lowered by the recession, by 2004 RFTA’s available fund balance will be in the red by about $275,000 and by 2005, that number will plunge to more than $1 million.

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