Meet RTD District “A” Candidate Mike Cerbo — Running to “Get It Done”

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.)

Mike Cerbo.

Next up: Mike Cerbo. Cerbo is running to replace Bill James in District A, which covers central Denver, Glendale, and portions of unincorporated Arapahoe County. He has three opponents: Regan Byrd, Aaron Goldhamer, and Kate Williams.

What prompted you to run for the RTD Board of Directors?

RTD intersects with so many parts of our lives that if we don’t give it the attention it deserves, it could be a snowball effect — including but not limited to increased congestion, and a lack of affordability because you’d be forced to take other modes that are more expensive. It’s just a really, really big deal, and it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. We’ve gotta find a way to bring everybody together to move the agency forward. If not, I hate to say it, but with the increases in technology and how rapidly we’re changing the way we move around our city, there is a risk that RTD could become obsolete.

How do you know you can “bring people together”?

I worked on the West Washington Park Neighborhood Association, and served on the I-25 and Broadway Station Area Plan, which in itself has a ton of competing interests. I worked with RTD, Denver, WalkDenver, BikeDenver — so many different parties in there — and sometimes those meetings can get a little tense. But I’ve always focused on understanding people first before speaking. Because if you don’t understand where people are coming from, it’s really hard to engage in meaningful dialogue.

What’s RTD’s most important challenge right now? 

What I think is most important is increasing ridership. And it’s not a single issue because if you increase ridership, it’s another snowball effect, of a positive nature. You’re battling congestion, which is what I think most people associate with RTD. But to increase ridership, you’ve gotta build the connections, that we currently lack, to get to our transit facilities.

And you’ve got to look at affordability because there’s a lot of people who simply can’t afford it. I think RTD missed the boat when they didn’t include an income-based fare structure with their new fare structure. I’d like to see easier accessibility for high school students. A lot of kids rely on RTD to get around. They provide discounted passes to high school kids, but only a certain amount. If a family can’t afford even a half priced pass, we’re making it difficult for a high school kid to get to school. And any kid that wants to be at school shouldn’t have a road block or a hurdle to get there.

But there’s also a lot of “choice” riders out there that can afford it, would like to take it, it’s just not convenient for them. They can’t justify it. If that’s an affordability issue, if that’s a convenience issue, if that’s an accessibility issue, all of those need to be looked at if we’re going to drive up ridership.

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The boundaries of District A. Map: RTD

What are some problems facing District A that you’d like to solve?

You can start with sidewalks. There’s a lot of sidewalks which just aren’t built to connect people to the light rail or to the bus stops.

But what can RTD do about that?

RTD does have their hands tied a little bit. What I’d like to see RTD do is not so much work in a silo, but partner with Denver on sidewalks. I think you look at the nonprofits and the transportation management agencies, try to get some grant money — just finding innovative ways to finance those projects.

Working as a civil engineer, I understand that the costs are immense — maybe technology can solve that problem. Centennial is doing the test program with Lyft right now. Granted, that’s from Bloomberg [Philanthropies] money and there’s only a limited amount, but using Lyft, using these new technologies to get people to the station that might otherwise not be able to access it due to lack of infrastructure, could also be part of the solution.

But isn’t it RTD’s responsibility to get people to and from a station, ultimately?

I don’t think it’s a yes or no question. RTD plays a very important role, but a lot of the infrastructure that is lacking, you could say, is Denver’s responsibility. It would be RTD’s responsibility to partner with Denver to identify where those connections are lacking.

There are small amounts of money that RTD does use for infrastructure. From my discussions, they’re so burdensome that you almost spend as much money just filling out the paperwork to use the money, and showing compliance, as you do putting that money into the system.

Anything else facing your district?

It’s not really easy to get north-south. Colorado Boulevard is the cause of many gray hairs, not just for me, but for many folks out there. So north-south connections are a big challenge. Congestion is difficult but I think the rail corridor is a huge asset, so getting people to those corridors is a big problem — connections.

What’s your solution for Colorado Boulevard?

Truly providing a convenient and effective bus service along Colorado Boulevard. That’s probably bus rapid transit.

That would be huge. You need the city to provide right of way, you need other RTD board members to sign on. How do you navigate that?

Not easily. It is a challenge. Constant communication through your partner agencies are paramount, because you can’t do anything alone. You can’t draw a line in the sand, work in a silo, and expect to get any results.

The BRT is gaining a lot of traction on Colfax. That partnership does exist and things can get done. As far as navigating RTD, my hope for the future is that it can become a little more nimble of an organization, so it can adapt to these changes in technology, changing transit patterns — where District A can solve a District A problem and District H can solve a District H problem without so many hurdles to get through internally. We are a regional agency, but Denver does have its own problems.

What do you see five, 10 years down the road?

The goal would be to adapt and incorporate new technologies into the system that we might not even know about right now. We’ll need to have the nimbleness as an agency to test those and incorporate those to make the service more cost effective and efficient.

What are some smaller things RTD could do right now?

Well we’re already doing it with the real time data. Bus stops — a lot of them don’t even have a bench. If we’re going to make the ride better I think we need to make the walk and the wait better immediately.

What edge do you have over your opponents?

Me being an engineer, I read the directions, I follow them, and I get it done. I’d like to take that mentality into RTD.

Stay tuned for interviews with other RTD candidates.