Nearly 250,000 people rode a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus in December, the most in a single month since the recession, and the agency saw ridership numbers for 2013 rise 4.3 percent over the previous year.
December’s number of 248,379 riders is RFTA’s second highest monthly total ever, trailing only the 260,377 who used a bus in January 2009, said CEO Dan Blankenship. That is 26 percent higher than the number in December 2012.
Blankenship said he was still awaiting numbers from January of this year, but he said ridership may break the 2009 mark.
Last year saw about 4.1 million total riders, roughly 170,000 more than in 2012.
It was “kind of a perfect storm of conditions that is contributing to a substantial increase in ridership,” he said. “It’s [bus-rapid transit], it’s X Games, it’s the weather.”
Bus-rapid transit, the $46 million upgrade of valley transit, debuted in September, offering more frequent buses that can get up and down the valley faster.
RFTA is tracking that number — just under 149,000 riders through the end of December — separately so it can report the new service’s usage to the Federal Transit Authority and the community. The FTA provided a $25 million grant to help fund BRT.
Noting that Aspen recently reported robust sales tax numbers for the year, Blankenship said it appears tourism and the economy in general are rebounding.
Unemployment continues to fall in Pitkin and Garfield counties, according to federal statistics.
“It’s all coming together,” he said.
Blankenship told elected officials last year that he expects BRT to boost ridership by 25 to 30 percent over the next two to three years.
Figures from the city’s transportation department support Blankenship’s view of more activity in Aspen. There were 310 more trips across the Castle Creek Bridge last year compared to the year before for a total of 263,345. That is the highest annually since 2007, the year before the recession hit with full force.
City of Aspen transportation director John Krueger said traffic counts in 10 out of the 12 months last year were higher than in 2012. The Fourth of July week was the year’s busiest, followed by Christmas week. The single busiest day was Dec. 31, when 32,696 vehicles trips in both directions across the bridge, Krueger said.
The yearly total was 7 percent below maximum target levels established in 1993, when 282,000 vehicles crossed the bridge. City officials have set a goal to never have traffic surpass that level, and BRT is likewise aimed at getting people out of their cars.
Adding to RFTA’s ridership numbers last year was a new shuttle service for Carbondale. Because BRT buses stop at the park-and-ride lot on Highway 133, the new service has buses circulating through town to get riders to and from the BRT stop, Blankenship said.
From Dec. 14, when the service started, to the end of December, 5,131 people used the service. Blankenship said he believes the demand has been fairly strong and has helped reduce pressure on the often-packed BRT parking lot there.
Still, RFTA’s board of directors will discuss this week whether to purchase an adjacent lot that would enable the agency to add 50 more spaces, he said.
Back in Aspen, 1,037,059 people used buses that serve the Castle/Maroon, Hunter Creek, Burlingame/Aspen Airport Business Center and Cemetery Lane areas in 2013. That number, which also includes another route for Maroon Creek Road and the Galena Street and Cross Town shuttles, is 2.1 percent higher than 2012.
Usage of the free bus between Aspen and Snowmass Village increased 1 percent, and the number of riders from Snowmass headed downvalley or to the Brush Creek intercept lot increased by 14 and 18 percent, respectively.
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