Meet RTD District E Candidate Claudia Folska, a Transit Rider for Life

Even people who use Denver’s transit system daily might be surprised to find out that a publicly elected board of directors oversees the Regional Transportation District. It’s true.

The 15-member RTD Board of Directors reps constituents from all over the map, literally, and makes decisions that affect Coloradans — in some ways more directly than the president. Eight seats are up for grabs this November 8.

Streetsblog wants you to be informed when you decide who fills those seats, so we’ll publish interviews with candidates leading up to Election Day. (Hat tip to Transit Alliance for the footage from a closed candidate forum last month.)

Next up: Claudia Folska. Folska is the incumbent representing District E, which covers parts of Denver south of East Colfax Avenue, parts of Aurora, Centennial, and unincorporated Arapahoe County. Her opponent is JM (Maria J) Fay.

  • Most used RTD route: E, F, and H lines and the 27 bus
  • Day job: Owner, Virtual Vanguard production company
  • Lives in: Southmoor
  • Website

Why are you running for reelection?

I guess it’s the same reason I ran in the first place. And that really had to do with me feeling like I had a contribution to make to the continued growth and expansion of the largest investment in a multi-modal transportation system ever in America [FasTracks]. And the reason I felt I had a contribution to make is because I’m blind and permanently transit-dependent. I have grown up on transit my whole life. I moved from Southern California to Denver when my daughter was three because of RTD.

What makes the system so great?

For me it’s the customer experience. I’ve never had a rude bus driver or a rude train operator. I find the people on the bus or the train to be delightful. In 2003 I learned that, to get my PhD, I had to go to CU Boulder. I hadn’t even been to Boulder. It was a bit overwhelming and I thought, how could I get there on public transit, and be able to take care of my kid? It was really kind of devastating. But I called RTD and they really talked me through it in such a kind, nice way, I felt like I could do this. The trip was long, but it wasn’t bad. The system is very legible to me. It became so comfortable to me. I have a groove.

What are RTD’s shortfalls?

I really think there are two challenges that RTD faces: It’s a pretty big organization, so making change is difficult. Having an idea and actually getting it implemented takes time. So for me the frustration is time. It’s not that people are gonna say no, no, no all the time, but finding a mechanism to bring these ideas to fruition —  I have a lot, and I think they’re brilliant, but that’s me. That doesn’t mean everybody else does.

And the other thing is, I’m one board member out of 15. So a lot of the innovative ideas that board members can bring to the table, or even citizens, you’ve got this board of directors who may or may not need to vote on it. That’s a challenge because sometimes they have their personal agenda — either because they like you, or they don’t like you, or because it doesn’t fit for what they want in their district, or there’s a conflict.

Our funding is sales tax based, so it goes up and down depending on the economy, and that’s a challenge too.

What’s an example of a “brilliant” idea you’ve had?

It was an art contest called “I love my RTD.” And I wanted to pilot that in Cherry Creek and Aurora Public Schools. In 2010 I brought that to the board, and they were like, no, no, no, no, no. And when I got elected I was like yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. So in 2013 and I was pushing it and at the end of 2014 it finally happened. So you see how long it took. It’s a simple little art contest, but we had 100 percent engagement with both school districts and all middle school art students, which is remarkable.

How exactly does an art contest help the transit system?

The art contest was voted on by the community through the RTD website. So it engaged people. We had, in one week, 57,763 people vote on the art. The winners of the art contest got their art wrapped on the bus. And those kids, and those families, and those teachers, they built communities through that bus, and now they want to ride it.

Screen Shot 2016-10-20 at 9.34.39 AM
The boundaries of District E. Map: RTD

It’s been many years since RTD began working on it and Denverites still don’t have a modern fare payment system. What’s going on with smart card?

I think we’re fed up with [the contractor] Xerox, and we’re frustrated. We’re looking to fully implement the smart card, and it will be great when it happens, but it’s really, I’d say, a failure of Xerox to deliver. Why the board over the years allowed this to continue is beyond me. Are we actually going to earn $28 million from smart cards over a period of time, to say it was well worth it, as technology changes so rapidly? How are we gonna keep up with it? We have not seen the deliverables and in my opinion, Xerox needs to pay us the $28 million back. I think they’re a failure.

Do you think RTD’s role includes growing ridership by getting more people out of their vehicles?

RTD is a transportation option. My effort, like that art contest, was to grow the rider. My intention is to grow them from young people when they’re open-minded. I think it’s a very big lift to think that you can, in a broadly suburban, car-oriented place, drag people out of their cars. Because they have so many things they need to do — dropping their kid here, dropping their kid there. The way our district is really built, transit is really great in the urban core. Things are vertical, you have high density, but could you imagine shopping at Costco down in Park Meadows and bringing your toilet paper on the light rail? Or even getting it from Costco to the light rail at Lincoln Station?

Actually I can imagine taking groceries on the light rail because it’s done in other cities. Why not here?

I think we have a role at the table in partnership with municipalities to make that possible, if that’s what people want. And they need to better understand real walkability. So I even changed the name from transit-oriented development to pedestrian-oriented development, and I wrote a book about it. Because when we put the person first, as a pedestrian, now you’re thinking, as a planner, as a designer, as an architect, about walkability, not drivability. Where do I put my car? A car is not part of the equation.

What are specific issues facing District E?

Hampden Boulevard is a nightmare to cross. Parker is another nightmare to cross. I often say, let’s just blindfold the City Council and send them walking across it, and we’ll see some fast change. But nobody’s taking me up on the offer. Southmoor is a failure light rail station. And now you have this senior housing on the north side of Hampden, and supposedly this is walkable, and it’s just impossible. We partner with our local jurisdictions, our council people, or CDOT people, to find ways to make a collaborative investment in making things more walkable, and I think you’re gonna see some beautiful changes in that area.

Why are you better than your opponent to deal with these issues?

I can’t say that I’m better than anybody. I can say why I’m great at what I do. And I’m great at what I do because I love what I do. My life depends on good, affordable, efficient transportation. I can’t be me without it. So I have that personal relationship with the entire system, from the para-transit part all the way to the buses and the trains and the taxis — I use every bit of it.

  • jmfay

    Its funny how Ms Folska pushed the smart card at the fare meetings; stating only 10 cents more than what you were paying now per trip. That means from the single ticket prices. King Soopers used to charge $10 for a packet of 10 discounted ride tickets. Now they are $11.75. So its not 10 % more.

    When the smart cards didnt take effect on 1 January when the fare increases started; RTD didnt lower the fares to reflect the lack of smart cards. You also dont get to use 2 discounted tickets to get a day pass and the day passes also sold at Kings have no discounted price.

    The monthly fares also went up by 25 % with alot of the people in District E being low to moderate income families while regional fares bearly went up and the airport fares are a mess. (including being the same price for a one way ticket as an all day pass for the airport.)

    As someone who also needs to use RTD; as I dont have a car; using RTD is very hard with the present system. I sold at 2 different farmers markets on opposites sides of town this year. One forced me to take 2 loads of dried fruit and my sales table through 2 bus rides and 2 train rides and the other was 2 bus rides and 1 train ride with a short walk. It was very hard thing to do but you do what you have to; to make some money to pay your bills with.

    • Silver Fox

      JM Fay fails to state that she is banned from the Arapahoe County Library District and the Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District by permanent retraining order. Ms Fay has several delinquencies in her campaign filings with the Secretary of State. JM Fay also has numerous other run ins with law enforcement and is well known by both the Denver and Arapahoe County Court systems. There is much, much more on the craziness of JM Fay. JM Fay lacks credibility.

      • jmfay

        Again; your information is bad and you dont have all the facts while hiding behind an avatar.

  • jmfay

    Ms Folska also doesnt state that blind people / wheel chair riders have the ability to use access a ride / cab. That means they have the ability unlike other disabled / other riders to get from their home to various places paying a few dollars more for the cab while RTD picks up the rest (per Ms Folska) Access a ride has a fixed price.

    I recently found out at an RTD forum which she did not attend that there is a problem with this as there are not enough drivers / cabs to handle all the demand so people are waiting a long time at times for that ride. Not sure what is worse; having this available but having to wait for it or being forced to take 4 trains / buses to get to the other side of town and praying you make all the connections though taking 2 hours or more to get there.

    • Silver Fox

      JM Fay fails to state that she is banned from the Arapahoe County Library District and the Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District by permanent retraining order. Ms Fay has several delinquencies in her campaign filings with the Secretary of State. JM Fay also has numerous other run ins with law enforcement and is well known by both the Denver and Arapahoe County Court systems. JM Fay lacks credibility.

      • jmfay

        Actually your information is not accurate and you are hiding behind an avatar.

        • Silver Fox

          Don’t worry JM FAY – I have the facts right. It’s all public record. Do you want me to go on and on from the public record?

          • jmfay

            Public record doesnt tell all the information and only tells one side of a story. You are also hiding behind an avatar as if you are afraid of telling people who you are and where you fit in the scheme of things. This is what bullies do and we are very familiar with them from 10 years of going to water board and other meetings.

          • Silver Fox

            Then set us straight JM Fay. Why the restraining orders? Why the jail time? Who is the bully and who makes the threats?

          • jmfay

            This starts 20 years ago and if you were interested; you would have come to us first and or digged for real facts You also wouldnt be hiding behind an avatar. You also just started posting using this name silver fox. We have posted under our name for years and we are not ashamed of what we post either by and large.

            This also goes back decades in this area as a handful of people are very powerful and if you lived here; you would know this.

            We are also a very private person and we are not about to air it all on facebook where it will stay in perpetuity.

          • Silver Fox

            JM FAY is running for public office. The public has a right to know about criminal and civil activity, especially when it pertains to public spaces like libraries. JM FAY cannot hide behind privacy when running for office. Tell us – are we safe around JM FAY?

          • Ryan

            You just made my decision to vote for Folska extremely easy. Thanks.

          • jmfay

            Things are not always what they seem and you dont have all the facts. If you a want a do nothing; who bearly makes the fare meetings though she seems to have a driver to take her places; and no

          • jmfay

            Things are not always what they seem and you dont have all the facts. If you a want a do nothing; who bearly makes the fare meetings though she seems to have a driver to take her to some places but not to local RTD meetings in the community (per an RTD employee); then vote for her. We are not hiding from people and we have been lit dropping and knocking on doors for months to meet people to try and win this seat. You would be surprised at who supports us and these people have known us for years.

            We expect this to be cleared up and to be completely cleared as we have done nothing but you cant talk to bullies. Silver Fox is hiding behind his avatar and just causing trouble without having all the information.

            You too are hiding behind an avatar. The only one not hiding is us.

          • Ryan

            I don’t need to hide. I’m simply someone who was doing some research while filling out my ballot and was lucky enough to discover that I dislike one of the candidates on a personal level. I doubt I’ll be the only one.

          • jmfay

            Very little research on someone you never met while giving your vote to someone who cant even be bothered to attend local RTD meetings in her community though she serves on the board. Someone who voted for large fare increases on the very people she was elected to serve while giving other people breaks in their fares who could afford to pay more..

            Someone who made promises 4 years ago when she was running for the board; that it was going to be good for the community to have someone who uses RTD on the board. The first thing she does after being shown in is to run for Board President.

          • Silver Fox

            JM FAY – the research and record are clear – you have cost the tax payer with 29 frivolous law suits since 1999 and lost every time! In fact, you still owe the government and tax payers thousands in legal fees from these law suits. 29 times!!! Really??? This will be cleared up? With what? Your next law suit filed just this past August? It appears that you are now suing everyone including the mail man and the Dog Catcher? JM FAY should look in the mirror before she criticizes others.

  • Silver Fox

    Ms Fay fails to state that she is banned from the Arapahoe County Library District and the Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District by permanent retraining order. Ms Fay has several delinquencies in her campaign filings with the Secretary of State. Ms Fay also has numerous other run ins with law enforcement and is well known by both the Denver and Arapahoe County Court systems. Ms Fay lacks credibility.

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