1. Why is RFTA going for a property tax rather than a sales tax?
By state law, Regional Transportation Authorities, such as RFTA, are authorized to levy up to 1% in sales and use taxes within their boundaries, with voter approval. RFTA has eight member jurisdictions and, as the chart below indicates, Glenwood Springs and Carbondale are at RFTA’s 1% sales and use tax cap, so a region-wide sales tax vote would not be possible. Regional Transportation Authorities are also authorized by state law to levy a uniform property tax of up to 5 mills within their boundaries, with voter approval. In order to have a region-wide vote, RFTA is proposing a property tax instead of a sales tax increase.
For more information on Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) tax rates please follow this link: https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/DR1002.pdf
2. What is RFTA’s annual budget?
Please see the Consolidated Financial Overview included in RFTA’s 2018 adopted budget, below:
Please Note: The Service Contracts’ fund records revenue and expenditures related to service contracts that RFTA has with the City of Aspen, the City of Glenwood Springs, Aspen Skiing Company, the Music Associates of Aspen, and Garfield County (Traveler Senior Transportation Program).
For a copy of RFTA’s adopted 2018 budget please follow this link:
3. Where does current funding for RFTA come from?
See answer to question number 2, above, and 2018 Estimated Revenue Composition pie chart, below:
4. Why does RFTA not pay for itself?
According to the National Transit Database, “2016 National Transit Summary and Trends” report, on average, passenger fares cover approximately 32 percent of the cost of public transit operations in the United States.
The City of Aspen, the City of Glenwood Springs, and the Aspen Skiing Company contract with RFTA to provide their services. Aspen pays RFTA the allocated operating cost of its service and pays for its replacement vehicles. Aspen does not charge a fare to passengers on its services, as an incentive to increase utilization and reduce automobile congestion. The City of Glenwood Springs pays the allocated cost of its service to RFTA and it pays the cost of its replacement vehicles. The City of Glenwood Springs charges a $1 all-day fare, which it uses to defray a portion of the operating cost of its service. The Aspen Skiing Company pays RFTA the allocated operating cost of its ski-related transit services, which are open to the public and fully integrated with the public transit services RFTA provides. ASC does not charge a fare on services it helps to fund.
RFTA is only responsible for establishing fares for its regional services, such as VelociRFTA BRT, local buses, Aspen-Snowmass buses, Down Valley to Snowmass direct buses, the Grand Hogback I-70 commuter service, and the Maroon Bells Bus Tour. The chart below reflects how much fare revenue RFTA generated in 2017 from its regional commuter services. In addition, RFTA received approximately $616,000 from the Elected Officials Transportation Committee (Aspen, Snowmass Village, and Pitkin County) to make the fare free between Aspen and Snowmass Village.
As the chart below indicates, regional commuter service passenger fares and the EOTC free-fare contribution represent approximately 23% of RFTA’s cost of operating the regional commuter services:
Why can’t RFTA just increase fares to meet its long-term needs?
The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) has a fare elasticity formula that states, for every 10% increase in fares, ridership typically declines by 4%. If fares are raised by 10%, the net increase in fare revenue is approximately 6% due to an estimated 4% decline in ridership. Given fare elasticity, if RFTA doubled its regional service fares the total amount of additional revenue generated from the increase would be approximately $2.49 million ($4.156 million x 60% due to fare elasticity). According to the APTA fare elasticity formula, however, regional commuter ridership would decline by an estimated 40%.
If the RFTA communities want more people to ride buses to reduce automobile congestion and free up parking for customers, a fare increase of that magnitude could be counter-productive. A more modest 10% fare increase would net approximately $249,000 in additional revenue, but only lose 4% of the riders. Ultimately, whether doubling fares or raising fares by a smaller percentage, the revenue generated would be significantly less than the $9.5 million required to fund the 2.65 mill levy Destination 2040 Plan.
As an alternative, RFTA could reduce its current regional services between 20% – 25% and that would help to put RFTA’s budget in balance longer term. However, that would also result in fewer existing riders and not position RFTA to meet future ridership demand as population and employment continue to grow.
On average, public transit agencies in the United States pay for approximately one-third of the cost of operating through the farebox. In addition, they only pay approximately 12 percent of their capital costs with fares and other directly generated revenue. The “2016 National Transit Summary and Trends” pie chart below indicates that over 50% of the capital costs of the nation’s transit systems are paid for with State and Federal funding sources, and the balance, almost 40%, is paid for with local revenue:
Given the uncertainty of State and Federal revenue, RFTA anticipates it will be challenged to replace its existing fleet and maintain current regional commuter service levels, much less expand in the future to meet regional commuter ridership demand, which is forecasted to grow by approximately 25% over the next 20 years. The charts below from RFTA’s 2018 adopted budget reflect RFTA’s long-range financial forecast absent additional local revenue:
Unless RFTA obtains additional revenue, RFTA believes it will be required to reduce its regional commuter services by over 20% in order to put its budget in balance long term. If service reductions of this magnitude are made, RFTA’s long range financial forecast would be improved:
Although service reductions would improve RFTA’s financial forecast, the impact on RFTA’s regional service schedule would be significant. The schedule below is reflective of the degree to which VelociRFTA and Local bus trips would need to be eliminated to bring RFTA’s budget into balance (highlighted in purple and pink, respectively):
5. When was the last time RFTA was on the ballot?
In November of 2008, RFTA ask voters within its eight member jurisdictions to approve a 0.4% sales and use tax increase and $44.5 million in bonding authority, so that it could construct and implement the VelociRFTA Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT). Voters approved the increase in sales and use tax levied by RFTA, as well as the bonding authority, and VelociRFTA BRT began operating in September 2013, on time and on budget.
In 2008, it was forecasted that approval of the sales tax increase and bonding authority would enable RFTA to construct and implement VelociRFTA BRT and to remain financially fit for at least 12 additional years. Currently, RFTA’s financial forecast is positive until approximately 2025, when a significant number of buses in its fleet should be retired and replaced.
6. Will this negatively impact other items on the ballot or vice versa?
It is challenging to predict how voters could respond to a General Election ballot with several proposed state and local tax increases. Hopefully, voters will carefully consider the need for and merits of each proposed taxing measure before making their decisions to vote in favor or against them. Because RFTA is comprised of eight member jurisdictions, it unlikely that it could find a year in which none of them had their own taxing proposals on the ballot.
7. Can RFTA raise bus fares to pay for improvements?
Please see the response to question number 4, above.
8. Will this decrease the fares for riders?
RFTA has not raised fares since 2009. Currently, RFTA has commissioned a study of its fares to determine how affordable and equitable they are for users. The study will be completed in the fall of 2018 and some adjustments in fares up or down could result. Recently, the RFTA Board directed management to review the feasibility of reducing the fare for children because of the relatively high cost for families to use RFTA services. The Destination 2040 Financial Plan assumes that fares would be adjusted upwards by 5% in 5-year intervals, beginning in 2025.
9. What are the proposed improvements and the costs associated with them?
A list of proposed Destination 2040 improvements and detailed descriptions and costs associated with them can be found at: https://www.rfta2040.com/improvements/
10. Why is RFTA not considering rail?
In June 2017, Parsons Transportation Group (PTG) completed the Upper Valley Mobility Study Report, which was commissioned by the Elected Officials Transportation Committee (EOTC). The purpose of the study was to update cost estimates for a variety of transit alternatives operating between Aspen and the Brush Creek and Highway 82 Intercept Lot. The study estimated the capital cost of light rail operating in this segment of the corridor to be between $428 million and $527 million (see chart below). Due to the high capital cost for approximately 6 miles of the Highway 82 corridor, it did not appear to financially feasible to develop a regional rail system at this time, which could cost upwards of $1 billion or more. RFTA, however, is preserving the Rio Grande Railroad Corridor so that, in the future, that option will remain available for the region, if population density and highway congestion create circumstances that favor the development of rail more than they do at present.
11. Will more parking be made available at park and rides throughout the valley?
The Destination 2040 Plan assumes the expansion of the 27th Street Park and Ride facility in Glenwood Springs, and the development of a new park and ride facility in the Willits or Mid-Valley area.
12. Will RFTA consider better and more bike rack equipped buses?
RFTA is currently reviewing its options for bike racks and would like to transport as many bikes on buses as it feasibly and safely can, without bringing bicycles onboard buses. RFTA will be testing a 3-bike rack, similar to the 2-bike rack system that has been installed on RFTA’s newer buses. The goal will be to phase out the older 4-bike racks used by RFTA for many years, which are challenging for people to use efficiently and which do not work for fat tire bikes and e-bikes.
In addition, RFTA plans to work with WE-cycle to expand bike sharing throughout the Roaring Fork Valley, as a means of enabling RFTA passengers to travel to and from RFTA bus stations and stops without the need to transport their own bicycles. Looking into the future, there may also be a variety of e-bikes and other electrically assisted alternatives that will be available, some of which may be small enough to bring onboard buses.
13. Will Battery Electric Buses work in our high altitude environment?
According to the American Transportation Association 2017 Fact Book, Battery Electric Buses (BEB’s) represented only 1% of the transit buses in the nation in 2005. By 2015, the number of BEB’s in U.S. bus fleets had increased to 17%.
Due to concerns about harmful tailpipe emissions and noise, many transit agencies across the country are beginning to transition their fleets towards BEB’s. Park City Utah currently operates six BEB’s and has ordered seven more, which are scheduled for delivery in November 2018. According the Los Angeles METRO website:
“The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) Board unanimously adopted a motion endorsing a comprehensive plan to transition the agency to a 100 percent zero emission bus fleet by 2030. The plan is contingent upon two primary factors: continuous advancements in electric bus technology – which includes an increase in range, reduction of bus weight, reduction of charging times and extension of battery life cycles – as well as a drop in price as the technology develops. Metro is the largest American transportation agency to endorse such a goal.”
RFTA believes the greatest concern with BEB’s has to do with “range anxiety,” which refers to how far a BEB is able to travel on a charge. To address this concern, BEB manufactures are continuously improving the range of batteries and also providing charging stations that can be used to top off the charges on buses along the route. In addition, BEB’s that operate in cold weather conditions can be equipped with diesel auxiliary heaters that help reduce the drain on batteries during the winter. BEB’s are estimated to be four times as energy efficient as traditional diesel buses, however, the energy cost per mile can be higher depending upon demand charges for electricity. If BEB batteries are charged during the peak demand periods, costs for electricity can be significantly more expensive than when batteries are charged during non-peak times. Holy Cross Energy’s off-peak demand time, as illustrated on the chart below, appears to coincide with the times when RFTA’s BEB fleet would most likely be charged:
Given the wide window of time that RFTA BEB’s can be charged during off-peak hours RFTA is hopeful that it can purchase electricity for its BEB fleet at the lowest price possible. In addition, RFTA will be exploring the potential to operate its BEB fleet using solar energy so that there will be zero carbon emissions at the source or tailpipe.
Over the years, RFTA has introduced a number of different propulsion systems and fuels for its bus fleet. Currently, RFTA’s fleet is predominately comprised of diesel buses that operate on a blend of bio-fuels. In addition, RFTA has 10 diesel-electric hybrid buses and 31 buses that operate on compressed natural gas. Each propulsion technology poses its own set of maintenance challenges and RFTA is confident that it has the capability of overcoming the challenges faced with BEB’s. To this end, RFTA is undertaking a BEB pilot project in 2019 that will involve an initial fleet of eight BEB’s. With the BEB pilot fleet, RFTA hopes to obtain first-hand data about the range of batteries, the cost of operations, maintenance issues, passenger-loading and hill-climbing capabilities. Most likely the pilot fleet will be used primarily in the upper Roaring Fork Valley, i.e. within Aspen and between Aspen and Snowmass, until it can be demonstrated the range of the buses is sufficient for RFTA’s long-haul commuter services. Similar to LA Metro, future investments in BEB’s will be contingent upon demonstrated improvements in the range and operating characteristics of BEB’s, as well as a reduction in the initial capital cost of BEB’s as their market share of the transit bus market increases.
In May 2017, RFTA conducted a BEB workshop, which was attended by 5 BEB manufacturers. The manufacturers were provided with RFTA’s route operating characteristics and asked to provide responses to questions which were intended to enable RFTA to determine the feasibility of operating BEB’s in its service area. Based upon information received from the manufacturers and demonstrations of their BEB’s, RFTA determined that it would be feasible for it to conduct a pilot project. Subsequently, RFTA undertook a Request for Proposals (RFP) process to identify the most responsive potential partner in its BEB pilot project. New Flyer was selected as the successful bidder.
New Flyer has 50 years of experience manufacturing zero-emission buses, has delivered over 6,400 buses powered by electric motors and batteries in North America, and is the only bus manufacturer to offer all three types of zero emission propulsion systems – battery-electric, fuel cell and trolley-electric. RFTA anticipates taking delivery of its New Flyer BEB’s in the fall of 2019. The pilot BEB fleet, along extended warranties on the propulsion system, chargers and necessary infrastructure installation at RFTA’s Aspen Maintenance Facility, will cost approximately $8.512 million (see chart below) and be paid for with a combination of State, Federal, local, and RFTA funding.
Watch this video regarding the hill-climbing capabilities of the Proterra BEB:
14. Does RFTA really help traffic congestion?
The most severe congestion in the Highway 82 corridor occurs at the entrance to Aspen. The City of Aspen collects data regarding the number of cars crossing the Castle Creek Bridge to estimate the annual average daily traffic (AADT) entering and leaving town. In the early nineties, the City of Aspen established a goal of maintaining AADT at the 1993 level of 24,000. To achieve this goal, transit services were increased and paid parking was implemented. In addition, in 2008, exclusive bus lanes were constructed between the Airport/Buttermilk and the Maroon Creek Roundabout, to give buses priority getting into and out of Aspen. In September 2013, VelociRFTA BRT service was implemented to provide a more convenient commuting option for workers, with travel times competitive with private automobiles.
Based on CDOT traffic count data, the AADT crossing the Castle Creek Bridge has consistently remained under the City’s goal of 23,000 AADT every year since 1993. Since 1993, however, RFTA’s system-wide ridership has almost doubled from approximately 2.44 million passengers to 5.25 million passengers in 2017 (excluding passengers transported on transit services RFTA provided specifically related to the Grand Avenue Bridge closure). A 1992 CDOT origin and destination study, estimated that 37% of the person trips crossing the Castle Creek Bridge during peak a.m. commuting hours, during the peak winter season, were riding RFTA buses. Without the transit services RFTA provides, especially in the upper Roaring Fork Valley, automobile congestion would be significantly worse and the demand for limited parking would be even more intense.
During the Grand Avenue Bridge closure during the summer/fall of 2018, RFTA transit services were credited for helping to take approximately one out of every five cars off the road, helping to make the congestion delays more manageable for commuters that needed to drive themselves.
15. Is RFTA planning for more service on the I-70 corridor?
Yes. The Destination 2040 Plan assumes that service between New Castle and the 27th St. BRT Station in Glenwood Springs will be increased to every 30-minutes between 5:40 a.m. and 9:40 a.m., to every two hours between 9:40 and 3:40 p.m., and to every 30 minutes from 3:40 until 8:40 p.m., with the last bus leaving Glenwood Springs from 27th St. to New Castle at 9:05 p.m.
16. Can the Upper-Valley area fund RFTA since that is where all the employees are going?
Collectively, Aspen, Snowmass Village, and Pitkin County contribute approximately 65% of the sales and use taxes currently used to fund RFTA regional commuter services. Approximately 80% of the proposed 2.65 mill property tax revenue will also be contributed by these three jurisdictions.
17. Why are there so many empty buses in the middle of the day?
In order to qualify for the $24.97 million Very Small Starts grant that RFTA was awarded by the Federal Transit Administration for the VelociRFTA Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, RFTA had to commit to providing high frequency BRT service throughout the day. During the a.m. and p.m. peak periods, service frequency was required to be every 10 minutes or less, and during the midday, service during the peak winter and summer seasons was required to be every 15 minutes or less. This requirement essentially was in effect through 2016.
Currently, RFTA is evaluating ways to make targeted reductions in the midday BRT service levels in order to more closely match capacity with demand. However, as was indicated in the response to question number 4, above, if RFTA does not identify additional resources, the amount of service reductions required to bring its budget in balance long term will need to be more substantial.
18. How will RFTA avoid fare evasion in the future?
Although the majority of passengers are honest when it comes to paying their fares, transporting over 2.5 million regional commuter passengers per year, who are boarding and alighting from buses at multiple bus stops within multiple zones along a 70-mile corridor between Rifle and Aspen, makes it challenging to entirely prevent fare evasion. As part of the fare study mentioned in the answer to question number 8, above, RFTA will be exploring ways to reduce, if not prevent, fare evasion. The alternatives available will come at a cost. Technological solutions are expensive and could increase the dwell time at stations and bus stops due to the additional time required to process passengers. Having fare inspectors ride buses on a random basis to check tickets is another method that some transit systems use to discourage fare evasion.
19. What is the LOVA trail?
The Lower Valley Trail (LoVa) Trail has been in the planning stages since 1999, and has been championed primarily by dedicated volunteers.
A copy of the LoVa Trail Master Plan can be found by clicking on the following link:
Many challenges have been faced over the years to garner the resources required to complete the 47-mile trail from Glenwood Springs to the Mesa County Line along the Colorado River Valley. In recent years, it has become clearer that the prospects of getting the trail completed from Glenwood Springs to New Castle would be better if a regional governmental entity, such as RFTA, would be willing to assist in the effort.
Completion of the LoVa Trail, particularly between Glenwood Springs and New Castle, is a high priority, due to the significant hazards associated with riding bicycles on I-70. The danger of riding bikes on I-70 effectively precludes bike riding for commuting or recreational purposes to/from western Garfield County communities to/from Glenwood Springs.
RFTA member jurisdictions, Glenwood Springs and New Castle, would like RFTA’s assistance in developing, constructing, maintaining, and managing the stretch of the Lower Colorado River Valley (LoVa) Trail between Glenwood Springs and New Castle. Design and engineering plans are in various stages of completion. In the Destination 2040 plan, $2 million would be used as matching funds for state and federal grants that would help to complete the this segment of the trail, estimated to cost approximately $20 million.