A four-letter solution to rising gas prices in Garfield County? RFTA
An RFTA bus seat helps Bobbie Mortensen get back on her feet.
It’s a perk the 37-year-old commuter pointed out as she stood next to a Rifle Park and Ride bus station on a 39-degree May morning. It was 6:42 a.m. and the morning sun was illuminating the white chalk cliffs of the Roan Plateau as she clutched her windbreaker tightly.
The next bus due to arrive on the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority Hogback line was at 6:50 a.m. The last morning bus leaves at 9:20.
Mortensen was to travel to Glenwood Springs, where a work crew was waiting for him for an interior stucco job.
“I’m glad we have the bus,” she said. “Otherwise, how could I get to work?
Eight blocks north on Railroad Avenue, a handful of vehicles thronged past the pumps of a local gas station, lured by a discount for customers who pay cash.
Mortensen was driving a Chrysler 300, which is now total. The former Denver resident said she was also facing legal issues.
She currently shares a room with another adult at a nearby halfway house, and she gets dropped off every morning at Rifle Park and Ride.
“I get up at 5 am just to go do this job,” she says, “but the other job? I get up at 7 o’clock”
Mortensen does commercial and residential painting on weekdays. On the weekends, she is a bartender in Glenwood Springs.
Valley jobs like these are where the money is, she said.
“There aren’t many jobs here that pay well,” Mortensen said.
For $4, Hogback passengers like Mortensen can take a 25-mile lift from Rifle to Glenwood Springs. If they pay more, commuters can continue to Aspen. Rides, however, are cheaper if you buy bus tickets from electronic kiosks.
RFTA drew praise from US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who personally rode the bus earlier this year.
“@RFTA is one of the largest rural transit authorities in the nation, and they are at the forefront of electric vehicle technology in their bus fleets,” Buttigeig tweeted. “A great example of the importance of modern public transit in connecting workers in rural areas.”
Every day, RFTA transports hundreds of people to and from work. In fact, 2021 alone produced at least 3.19 million passengers, down slightly from 5.46 million in 2019.
More recently, the Colorado Valleys and Roaring Fork Transit System reported that it may have to cut services by 7%, cutting daily bus trips by 72 trips this summer. Officials say a tight labor market is caused by a lack of affordable housing.
Then there are gasoline prices. A downtown Aspen gas station posted $5.49 a gallon on June 2. Glenwood Springs resorts range between $4.29 and $4.59.
ENJOY THE RIDE
The clock struck 6:50 and the Hogback line was right on time. Mortensen climbed aboard and curled up in a seat in the back of the bus. She then put on headphones and scrolled her smartphone as the bus headed east on US Highway 6.
Twenty passengers were on board at the time. Once the bus made stops in Silt and New Castle, there were at least 25 passengers at 7:15 a.m. This included six students heading to schools in Glenwood Springs.
Moments later, the bus is gliding along the Colorado River on Interstate 70.
Mortensen said he has about a month left before he can leave the halfway house. And before getting off the bus in Glenwood Springs, she called the valley’s public transportation service a “stepping stone.”
“I’m going to have my own environment, my own life,” she said.
Journalist Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or [email protected]