DENVER — The Regional Transportation District is both benefiting and suffering from the high cost of oil.
“We’re looking at kind of a double-
edged sword here,” RTD spokesman Scott Reed said.
While more people seem to be riding buses as gasoline prices soar, sky-rocketing fuel costs also are increasing the cost of operating buses, he said.
According to Reed, RTD expects to pay double in 2006 what it spent for diesel fuel in 2004.
Public transit agencies across the nation “are getting clobbered” by fuel expenses, RTD general manager Cal Marsella told state lawmakers on the Transportation Legislation Review Committee last week.
Thus far, RTD has been able to absorb increased fuel costs within its $340.9 million annual operating budget, but the agency is feeling “an ongoing and pretty substantial budget impact,” Reed said this week.
In 2004, the average price the agency paid for low-sulfur diesel fuel was $1.11 a gallon. RTD staff, who are preparing a 2006 budget proposal for the elected board of directors’ consideration later this year, now projects it may have to pay an average of $2.22 per gallon next year, Reed said. That would be about $11.1 million more than RTD paid to fuel its fleet last year, Reed said.
Agency officials report that the approximately 644 buses RTD owns and operates consume about 6.4 million gallons of diesel fuel a year.
RTD also owns 428 buses it leases to private companies under contract, although the contractors must buy their own fuel, including payment of state and federal fuel taxes that RTD is not assessed when it buys fuel.
Reed said RTD has seen steady increases in ridership over the past 10 months, averaging about 1 percent to 3 percent higher than comparable months last year. He attributed at least part of that to people switching to buses for commutes to and from work or school.
“We now carry about 291,000 passenger trips on an average weekday and about 4.7 million passenger trips per month,” he said.
In preparing its 2006 budget, RTD may have to consider ways to offset rising fuel costs, Reed said, by cutting costs and looking for ways to increase revenues.
Cost-cutting possibilities, he said, might include trimming back on unproductive routes or bus schedules and adopting fuel-economy measures.
John Fryar can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.