RFTA board gives green light to cut summer bus service

An RFTA bus leaves the 27th Street bus station at noon in South Glenwood Springs.
Chelsea Independent/Post Independent

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board on Thursday approved a staff proposal to cut summer bus service by 7% due to a shortage of drivers.

No formal vote was required, but general manager Dan Blankenship and his team have sought the support of the board. New Castle Mayor and RFTA Director Art Riddile said it was well documented that there was a national labor shortage. RFTA is no exception.

“Everyone probably understands that,” Riddile said. “I don’t expect any pushback.”

Aspen Mayor Torre also supported the cuts, but expressed hope that RFTA would make an effort to solicit customer feedback on the cuts.

Blankenship said a public hearing into the cuts would take place at the next RFTA board meeting on June 9. The summer schedule begins June 6.

RFTA will reduce its summer service to 899 daily one-way trips from the 971 schedule. One of the biggest impacts will be on its Bus Rapid Transit service, which makes fewer stops in an effort to transport passengers the as quickly as possible between Aspen and Point Down. The number of BRT trips will be reduced to 116 from 149 per day. It will maintain 15-minute intervals between buses between 4:35 a.m. and 10:50 a.m. to handle the morning commute and between 1:50 p.m. and 7:20 p.m. for the afternoon rush. There will be a 30 minute interval between buses at all other times.

The cuts are necessary, according to a staff memo, because RFTA only has enough drivers to handle about 90% of its regular service this summer. With the cuts, its “operational readiness” will be at 105%. This is before sick days, vacations, retirements and surprises.

RFTA aimed to employ 185 drivers. Over the past 18 months, the average was only 151 drivers. Turnover was high.

RFTA has negotiated a pay scale with a union for the drivers. Even so, the cost of living in the Roaring Fork Valley, coupled with a lack of affordable housing, has made it difficult to retain workers, Blankenship said. The agency is studying the construction of housing on land it owns.

The summer schedule can be found on the agency’s website at http://www.rfta.com.

[email protected]

Melvin Z. Madore