RFTA Announces Winter Bus Route Service Cuts Amid Driver Shortage

Stephanie Kroll

As the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) grapples with a persistent shortage of drivers, winter service levels are set to be reduced by 7%. This cut is a response to the ongoing challenge of attracting and retaining enough drivers to meet the demand for public transportation in the region.

The proposed service cuts were discussed during a public hearing held by RFTA on Thursday. The main impact will be on the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service, known for its frequency and direct routes. RFTA plans to reduce the number of daily trips during peak morning and evening times by adjusting the frequency from 7 minutes to 10 minutes, resulting in a 15% reduction in BRT service.

Key service reductions include the elimination of the Highlands Flyer service from the Brush Creek lot to Aspen Highlands and a reduction in service between Aspen and Highlands. Additionally, the Hogback service connecting New Castle and Glenwood Springs will see a reduction in trips during non-peak hours.

This decision corresponds to a cut of 4,480 hours of road time and 100,000 miles, as confirmed by RFTA officials. Kurt Ravenschlag, RFTA’s Chief Operating Officer, highlighted that the agency is currently short 40 drivers from its target, and this shortage is expected to reach 10 to 15 drivers during the upcoming winter season.

To address the driver shortage, RFTA approved a staff proposal in September to increase the starting pay for year-round drivers from $25.68 per hour to $30 per hour. The pay scale adjustments also aim to expedite the rate progression for veteran drivers, promoting retention.

Acknowledging the efforts to hire more drivers, Jeanne McQueeney, Chair of the RFTA board, emphasized the agency's commitment to providing reliable service. Last winter, RFTA faced challenges, including routine service cancellations due to the driver shortage.

Ravenschlag reassured the public that RFTA's approach this winter is aimed at maintaining more reliable and consistent service. He explained that limited personnel would be strategically deployed, with backup buses used where needed to address crowding during peak hours.

The effectiveness of the wage adjustments is expected to take time, and if RFTA successfully attracts more drivers than anticipated, service levels will be restored incrementally.

Despite these challenges, RFTA is actively working on enhancing employee benefits, including increasing the availability of affordable housing, such as the Iron Mountain Place apartments in the former Rodeway Inn in Glenwood Springs.

The driver shortage issue faced by RFTA is reflective of a broader labor market challenge affecting numerous employers in the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond. While the goal of reducing private vehicle travel and increasing bus ridership has faced obstacles, RFTA remains committed to finding solutions to provide essential transportation services to the community.

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