Residents of the Roaring Fork Valley are saving millions of dollars thanks to the local bus system. That's the conclusion of an independent assessment. It says RFTA’s service reduces commute times, increases public safety and cuts down on the number of car miles traveled per year. Aspen Public Radio's Marci Krivonen reports.
The Southwest Energy Efficiency Project is behind the report. The public interest organization is focused on promoting greater energy efficiency.
Researchers looked at bus systems in the relatively small communities of Grand Junction, Fort Collins and the Roaring Fork Valley. Mike Salisbury helped put the study together. He says the idea was to quantify the economic benefits of public transit.
"I think we wanted to look at, does the investment in transit pay off? Does it make sense for a community to make. We tried to show that there’s a lot of economic benefits to transit systems that people aren’t aware of," Salisbury says.
In the Roaring Fork Valley, the study finds RFTA doesn’t just pay for itself, it returns more than $50 million dollars in benefits to the communities it serves. The biggest chunk of savings comes from the riders themselves. Most are commuting to work and, without those employees, Salisbury quantified businesses would stand to lose $43 million in wages.
"A lot of the benefit comes out of the service that RFTA provides to commuters because it moves a lot of people from their homes and to their jobs."
Without the bus system, he says some workers may become unemployed and seek public assistance, which would cost taxpayers $1.5 million, according to the study. Another half million dollars in savings is due to time saved on the road because the busses reduce congestion.
The study uses data from 2011 and 2012. That’s before the so-called BRT or Veloci-RFTA program began operating. The $46 million expanded bus service promises to speed up commutes. And, Salisbury says it’s much cheaper than expanding the highway itself.
"There was a study done by CDOT about ten years ago saying that adding a lane mile along sections of highway 82 would be something like $30 million per lane mile. So, the economics of expanding the bus service is a much better way of getting more people able to travel on the corridor than expanding the highway," he says.
The RFTA routes connect Aspen to Rifle, roughly 68 miles. In 2012, a survey of riders showed nearly 70 percent of RFTA’s 4 million rides were for people commuting to work.