Expanded RTA schedule attracts drivers

RTA housing is coming in handy 

By Mark Reaman

The closing of the Middle Bridge on Highway 50 had a surprising impact on the valley as several bus drivers working for the RTA were suddenly cut off from their commute to work. Over the past several seasons, Alpine Express, the entity which runs the RTA bus system, has used drivers from some of its other transit operations and many live in or near Montrose. When the bridge closed, those drivers were essentially cut off from their jobs.

The RTA has aggressively been stockpiling deed-restricted housing units with the thought that housing will be essential in the future to attract employees. Alpine Express owner Landon Ogilvie told the RTA board of directors at their May 17 meeting that all the RTA rental units in Gunnison will be full in the next 30 days. “We are bringing in five more full-time drivers,” he said. “Having those units is a big benefit. So is the expanded spring, summer and fall schedule. That provides more full-time employment opportunities. We will be rolling out a new compensation plan soon.” 

“The bridge closure impacted several drivers living in Montrose,” said RTA executive director Scott Truex. “We are fortunate we have these units. It will be the first time all of them will be filled.”

Ogilvie said the hope is that with full-time work available along with housing options, drivers will see the opportunity to commit to driving the RTA as a professional option in the valley. “The old habit for many drivers was that they would drive in the winter for the RTA and then do another job like construction or guiding the rest of the year,” he said. 

“Some of that attitude is adjusting. We are also recruiting outside the valley and the units allow people to move here. We think all these factors along with the new compensation plan will attract people interested in a profession that can stick with it.”

Ogilvie said the company is also actively training drivers by offering CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) classes.

Ridership just keeps going up…so buses are getting used

Truex said both March and April bus ridership was up over last year with March up 18% and April up 44%. Part of the April increase can be attributed to the more robust spring schedule now in place that includes 33 daily roundtrips, or roughly one every half hour. “People seem to really like it,” he said.

“People know they can rely on it more,” agreed board member Laura Puckett Daniels.

One impact of the expanded schedule is that the buses in the RTA fleet are being used more often. Truex is working on grants to help pay for replacement vehicles. “We are running more than 900,000 miles a year now,” he  said noting that it takes many months to secure the funding and then the physical bus. Each bus now costs about $900,000 and while grants could pay about 80% of the cost, Truex said competition for the grants is stiff.

“If for some reason we don’t get grant funding, I’ll be recommending we go ahead and buy a new bus with just local funding,” Truex said. “We really do need new buses.” 

Ogilvie said that with the buses getting more use, even lining out replacement parts for the buses is an issue but every effort is being made to stock supplies.

Truex reported the new and improved bike racks that can carry three bicycles including some fat tire bikes have been installed on all the RTA buses. 

Survey responses released

Results of the winter survey were included in the meeting packet. Many of the results came from people who took the survey while riding the bus.

“The survey took place in March, and it provided really good data about who was riding, why they were riding and what improvements they would like to see,” said Truex. “Passengers are familiar with our system and most of them are using the app. That is important to know when trying to get information out to passengers.”

“Getting 456 responses that seemed to be a really good reflection of the demographics makeup of the valley is really good,” said Puckett Daniels.

Truex said only 5% of the respondents were visitors and the majority of people using the bus (54%) were employees going to or from work. Economics and convenience topped the list of reasons why people choose to use a bus. The fact it is free is a big plus for riders, as is the condition of the buses. 

The airport topped the list of new desired destinations and there was some desire to see a strictly circulator bus in the city of Gunnison. While an airport stop does not directly meld with the RTA mission and the buses aren’t equipped to handle luggage, Truex said the RTA might be able to be a participant in figuring out some sort of potential airport service in the future. 

A similar summer survey will take place the last week of June.

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