Gunnison Valley RTA – We Move You!
Q. What is the RTA?
A. The RTA is a special district with its own boundaries and its own taxing authority. It was created by the voters in 2002 and it was reauthorized by voters in 2008 with about 80% of the electorate voting yes. The district boundaries include all of Gunnison County except the precincts which include Somerset, Marble, Pitkin, and Ohio City. The mission of the Gunnison Valley Transportation Authority (RTA) is to provide and improve air transportation to and from the Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport on a year-round basis, to provide a long term and energy efficient public transit system between the north and south ends of the Highway 135 corridor, and to provide senior and human services transportation in Gunnison County.
Q. How is the RTA funded?
A. The primary funding source for the RTA is a sales tax collected in the district. The sales tax is not collected on groceries or energy. The tax is 10 cents on a $10.00 sale in the district. Depending upon the economic activity in the district, this generates approximately $3.5 million annually. The RTA also applies for and receives grants for buses and bus operations. The RTA receives federal dollars each year from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) to help with the operation of the buses. In 2019, we will receive $212,000 for bus operations. We will also receive capital grants from the federal and state governments in the amount of $1,148,000 to replace two of our old buses with new CNG fueled high-capacity motor coaches.
Q. Who is in charge of the RTA?
A. The RTA has a board of directors that is made up of 8 elected officials. Each municipality appoints two council members and the county appoints two county commissioners to be RTA board members. The board elects its own chairperson and makes all policy decisions for the RTA. The board of directors hires an executive director, a special projects manager and an airline consultant to perform the majority of the RTA tasks. The executive director is Scott Truex and he is responsible for the day to day operations of the RTA and carrying out the decisions of the board of directors. Anthony Poponi is the special projects manager and he is responsible for developing and implementing projects for the board of directors and executive director and implements all communications to the local community. Kent Myers is the airline consultant and he is responsible for negotiating contracts with the airlines to fly into the Gunnison – Crested Butte Regional Airport. He is also responsible for reporting back to the board and keeping them informed regarding the performance of the air program.
Q. How does the RTA air program work?
A. The RTA works in cooperation with the Air Command subcommittee which includes members of the RTA, Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association (TA), Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport (GUC), Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR), and Western State Colorado University to identify and negotiate specific flights into (GUC). With the exception of United service from Denver, the airlines will not fly to our airport without contracts that guarantee that they will make a certain amount of revenue. These contracts are called Minimum Revenue Guarantee (MRG) contracts.
Negotiating MRG contracts is complex because the contracts have to take into account the opportunity cost for the airline to fly to GUC. The airlines want to use their limited number of aircraft in a way as to maximize profits. Revenues are more predictable in larger markets so in order to entice them to fly to GUC, we have to be able to ensure that they will make at least as much revenue as in a larger market. The airlines come up with a figure as to how much revenue they need to make to fly into Gunnison. This number includes the costs associated with flight crew, ground crew, airport space leases, landing fees, overhead, and most importantly, fuel. Once the cost is determined, then a maximum amount is negotiated to determine the highest amount of liability the community will be exposed to. This number is called the guarantee cap. The cap is the amount that the RTA and its partners must budget to pay if the revenue numbers are not met.
For instance, an Airbus A-319 aircraft with 128 seats might cost $30,000 to fly round trip from a hub airport. If we are going to fly this aircraft daily for 100 days, the MRG contract would guarantee the airline would make $3 million dollars on the service. (100 days X $30,000 per day = $3 million.) The cap amount in this situation might be $600,000. So, if revenue from the tickets sold totaled over $3 million, then the RTA would pay nothing. If the revenue totaled between $2.4 million and $3 million, then the RTA would make up the difference so that the airline would make their $3 million. If the revenue totaled less than $2.4 million, then the RTA would pay the cap amount of $600,000 and the airline would take a loss.
Q. How is the air program marketed?
A. The RTA is not specifically tasked with marketing the flights. In fact, RTA sales tax revenues cannot be used for marketing and must be used for transportation. Therefore, it is very important that the RTA work closely with our partners who do market the programs. The two largest marketers of the valley are CBMR and the Gunnison – Crested Butte Tourism Association (TA). The TA markets our air service program year-round and works closely with the RTA and CBMR. Our air service consultant Kent Myers has a background in ski area marketing and his expertise is shared with our marketing partners.
Q. What is the relationship between the RTA, the TA, and the LMD?
A. The RTA and the Local Marketing District (LMD) were both formed by the voters in 2002. The RTA collects a sales tax for our transportation missions while the LMD collects a lodging tax which is used for marketing the area. The LMD has a Board of Directors which consists of the three Gunnison County Commissioners. The Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association (TA) is a non-profit with its own Board of Directors – appointed by committee consisting of the LMD Board and other interested parties. The TA is funded by the LMD to market the valley on a year-round basis and the TA markets the flights which the RTA brings into the airport.
Q. How does the bus program work?
A. In 2007, the RTA received a grant from the State of Colorado to pay for 80% of the cost to purchase the four original RTA buses – three of which are still in service. In 2015, the RTA began to expand the fleet which travels the route between Gunnison and Mt. Crested Butte. The RTA receives annual operating grants which pay for some of the operating costs associated with the buses as well as capital grants to help pay for some of the new fleet. By accepting these funds, the RTA agrees to comply with many federal and state regulations. The buses are all ADA accessible and have wheelchair lifts. The route includes a loop through the city of Gunnison which includes the Rec. Center, the Gunnison Community Schools, 11th & Virginia, Hwy 50 at Safeway, Teller & Hwy 50, WSCU, and the City Market/ WalMart stops. The bus heads north on Hwy 135 with “flag” stops at the Tall Texan, Ohio Creek, Almont, a regular stop at CB South and flag stops at Riverland, Brush Creek, and Riverbend before stopping at the 4-Way stop in Crested Butte and the Mountaineer Square in Mt. Crested Butte. The same stops are covered on the southbound leg. Route and schedule information can be found at www.gunnisonvalleyrta.org and real-time arrival information is available through the free Transit app.
Q. Why has the bus been free and will the RTA charge in the future?
A. The bus has been free for many reasons. The primary goal of the RTA bus program is to transport as many people as possible as safely as possible. The RTA bus program has been immensely successful and has carried as many as 175,000 passengers in a year. Charging a fare would slow down the buses because the driver would have to ensure that the proper fare has been collected. Slowing down the schedule costs money because the system becomes less efficient and more buses are needed to run the same schedule. The revenues collected also come with administrative costs. These costs can be relatively high since there is currently no system in place to collect, account for, and audit the revenues. Ultimately, charging a fare cannot cover the costs of running a public bus system. If it could be profitable to run a bus system, a private company would jump in and do it.
In the winter 2010, the RTA had to reduce the number of bus trips from 10 to 6 each day and therefore charged a fare of $2 per ride the bus. The number of people riding the bus dropped to 26,000 from 62,000 the year before. In 2011, the RTA removed the fare and ridership bounced back to over 50,000 with 8 trips per day. This experiment showed that while scheduling is very important, bus ridership is very price sensitive. This price sensitivity has been experienced in other communities and has proved to be a deterrent to ridership.
At this time, since the RTA’s primary goal is to carry as many people as possible and since fare collection cannot cover the cost of the service, the RTA has no plans to charge fares on the RTA buses.
Q. How is the bus schedule determined?
A. The bus schedule is determined by the RTA Board of Directors after a recommendation is made by staff. The staff recommendation attempts to provide service during the highest demand periods of the day while using resources efficiently. The Board of Directors looks at each season’s schedule about 2-4 months prior to the schedule start date and a decision is made regarding the schedule at that time. Schedule changes are difficult to make after the decision is made since staffing and marketing can be affected. The RTA has been able to increase the off-season schedule from 3 round-trips to 8 round trips and increase the high season schedules as well. The late night bus has been a priority and now runs year-round.
Q. How do the Express buses work in the winter?
A. The Express buses run only in the winter and do not serve CB South. They do stop at every other bus stop on the route. Express buses run northbound in the morning and southbound in the afternoon. These buses tend to be full and it would make no sense to go to CB South and tell people that they cannot board since the bus is already full. Therefore, Mountain Express provides service to CB South during these times so that CB South is also served during peak times. Please click here for the CB South bus schedule.
Q. What about more bike racks/ski racks?
A. There are bike racks on the front of the buses during the spring, summer, and fall. These racks have room for only two or three bikes. Bikes are allowed on these racks during the daylight hours on a first come – first serve basis. Bikes are not allowed after dusk since they can block the headlights. Bikes are not allowed inside the buses because they would block the aisles. Ski racks are not used on the side of the buses since the buses are already at the maximum allowable width for highway travel. The RTA performed a trial with a ski rack on the back of the buses, but they were immediately covered in highway grime. Skis and snowboards are allowed on the bus and must be held in front of the passenger.
Q. How does the Denver Bus work?
A. The RTA was the coordinating entity that worked with CDOT to ensure that the Denver bus service was reinstated after several years without any service on Highway 50. For the first few years of the new service, the RTA collected funds from municipalities and counties along the Gunnison – Denver corridor which were used as a local match for a CDOT grant which made the route possible. The route has become more successful and at this point, CDOT subsidizes the route without local financial contributions. The bus runs both directions every day and a ticket costs $40 each way. In Gunnison, the bus stops at the EconoLodge across Tomichi from the Chamber of Commerce. In Denver, the bus goes to Union Station and to the Greyhound Station. To purchase tickets and get specific route and schedule information, go to https://ridebustang.com/schedules/#gunnison.
For more information on the economic benefits of the Gunnison Valley RTA, please request a presentation or meeting and download our report.