Meet RTD District “A” Candidate Aaron Goldhamer — Transit Is “Freedom”

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: Aaron Goldhamer. Goldhamer 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, Mike Cerbo, and Kate Williams.

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

I think there’s a lot of social justice issues surrounding public transit. Whether it’s getting people to and from work, affordable housing, to and from nutritious food sources and out of food deserts — those core social justice issues are important to me. What can we do with fares to make sure people who need relief are getting relief? Because with the recent fare hike, after taxes, your first hour of work is actually paying for getting to and from work if you’re on minimum wage.

What do you want to do to tackle these social justice and growth issues?

Obviously it’s a large board, but we should have all of our conversations and decision-making pointed towards a social justice focus. We have an outdated payment system. And especially when your low-income folks aren’t able to take advantage of buying an EcoPass in bulk, you get low income people paying full freight. So I think it would make a lot of sense to see what we can do to modernize that fare collection system.

You lost your bid for the House District 8 seat just this summer. How do voters know the RTD Board isn’t just a political stepping stone?

I’ve had a lot of conversations with people about what’s important to them. And managing Denver’s growth is something that came up a lot. I knocked on a lot of doors. I heard about how important these issues are. I want to render public service on the issues that people care about, and I saw this as a great opportunity to do that.

What is RTD not doing that it should be?

Right now RTD has statutory restrictions that makes it harder to tweak the parking cost at parking structures. And it’s basically so low that some of these outlying parking spots are essentially for your suburban riders that are using expensive parking facilities that your urban riders are subsidizing. So looking at whether or not we can change that statute to free up the district to tweak some of the parking costs could really be providing a new revenue source.

So you would lobby to change the state law forcing park-and-rides to offer free parking?

Yes, having a fair amount of exposure to state legislators, through my work with the party, and on my run, that’s something that I think would be a challenge worth taking on.

What is RTD’s role in the city and the region, in your opinion?

Obviously we want to take the cars of f the road, but more than that, it’s empowering people. It’s a way to empower people to live in places they can afford, get to work, get to school, get to nutritious food sources. It should be a device that empowers people. And, you know, it should be something that makes Denver more enticing for businesses to locate to as well. It’s empowering people, empowering the region to grow smarter.

Screen Shot 2016-10-05 at 12.00.59 PM
The boundaries of District A. Map: RTD

Is it RTD’s responsibility to grow ridership?

I think it’s board members’ responsibility to push RTD in that direction, yeah.

What else can you do to drive up ridership, make transit an enticing thing that’s competitive with the automobile?

Obviously, look at the frequency of routes so people know they’re not gonna be waiting half an hour, an hour for the routes they want to use a lot — that’s gonna be part of it. Fares are only 13 percent of the RTD budget. So making sure that our fares aren’t deterring people, that they don’t have to carry a whole lot of change to get on the bus. Modernizing the payment system. And then, whether it’s the modern amenities you see in certain systems — WiFi on buses and trains, making people want to ride is a win-win for everybody.

Obviously there’s a lot of people who are purely reliant on public transit. We need to make life easy for them, and we need to make it easy to choose into public transit. It’s a thing that improves people’s lifestyle and can improve our society — making it clear that public transit is patriotic. It’s not just your Ford F-150s that are a symbol of freedom.

What issues specific to District A do you think are important?

Everyone is always talking about Colfax streetcar this, Colfax streetcar that. I think the Colfax corridor has a lot of opportunity and obviously it’s just on the edge of the district, but it is a very well trafficked corridor. And whether or not there’s some realignment of lanes is something that can be discussed to get a dedicated bus lane. I think a lot of businesses are increasingly interested in the opportunities that would offer. It can be stimulating. Because Colfax is changing a lot, it’s changing rapidly, so there’s a lot of opportunity there.

What makes you more qualified than your opponents?

Well I don’t think of them as my opponents. I think of them as my competitors, because I think there have been some good ideas put forth by some of the other people in the race. I earned the 2014 Denver Democrats “volunteer of the year” award. People that I’ve worked with on public issues of concern see that I’m thoughtful and work hard on these public issues because I want to build a better Colorado. So I have some proven leadership on issues of public concern, and I got a lot of good feedback on my state house race. I got a degree in ethics, politics, and economics, and I think a lot of these issues have to be approached by all three of those angles.

Describe how you would work to get your agenda through such a large board.

I want to be able to talk about these issues in a way that hopefully gets a divergent group of people on the same page. You catch a lot more flies with honey than vinegar. It’s easy to find common ground. Progressive people want government to accomplish big things, and people have to trust government to do that. Waste and inefficiency tend to reduce trust in government — and that’s the thing that conservatives love to harp on. So finding those pieces of common ground. Let’s figure out the best, most efficient meaningful use of our public resources to get where we need to go. You find that common ground and you build from there.

Stay tuned for interviews with other RTD candidates.

  • jmfay

    FYI Streetsblog; there are 6 precincts in unincorporated Arapahoe county in 2 areas plus Glendale and Denver in this district.

    Looks good Aaron.

  • Thanks for sharing these Q&A’s with RTD candidates. It’s interesting to read about their points of view. That said, while each of the candidates for District A mentioned an issue with pricing, not one person recognized the fact that so many people are riding the light rail for free. I get on at the Alameda station/off at Union Station 3 days a week and at least half, if not more, of the people I see get on the light rail never pay a fare and in 3+ years I’ve only once seen an RTD person on a train checking that riders have paid. We need to address this issue. My biggest problem with the last round of fare increase is that if everyone was paying (even a dollar a ride) then we likely wouldn’t need to raise the fare. From my viewpoint, it seems like RTD just looks the other way.

    • R.W. Rynerson

      At the stations you mentioned, high percentages of riders are transferring to or from other routes or are commuters with passes. At places like that, the cost of going after the remaining fare violations may be more than the revenue that would be gained. In 3+ years I’ve been checked more times than you, but as a retiree I am riding on weekends, middays, evenings, reverse peaks.

    • Regan Byrd

      Actually I do recognize that, and the reason is because we have priced many dependent riders out of the system. Its basic economics that raising the cost of something can diminish both demand and choice users. If transit dependent riders cannot afford the fares for essential functions like getting to work, then they may take risks like not paying at all, resulting in a net loss of money for RTD. Affordable fares make sense fiscally as well as being fair. RTD does not have a high fare evasion percentage as far as it can measure, but measuring it can be difficult. We need more people paying a fare price they can afford. Its that simple.

    • Véronique Bellamy

      Well, how do you know “that so many people are riding the light rail for free”? I get on the train without paying a fare at the station because I purchase a monthly pass. Not to mention people can have day passes and transfers that they purchased on a bus on an earlier train ride.

      • Totally understand that a lot of people transfer. I transfer from light rail to bus and vice versa. But don’t those passes still need to be validated at the validation machine? If not, what is the purpose of that mchine? I do think that more are necessary at some stations because the one machine is often in an awkward place that many people might not even see depending on where they are coming from.

        • Véronique Bellamy

          Monthly passes don’t need to be validated. They are paper passes with foil on them. I really wish they would convert these to electronic passes that could be stored on that MyRide card they’ve been promising for a decade or so. Not to mention it would also save on the costs of printing them and if you lose them, you can report your card lost and get it replaced easily.

          Transfers and day passes also don’t need to be validated, as they already have an expiration time on them. The validator is simply a machine that stamps a time onto a prepaid ticket so that it can’t be used again and it can be used as proof of payment.

          • Interesting. If there was someone on a train checking to make sure people paid, how would they know that the transfer hasn’t been used already or is it unlimited transfers for the whole time period? I have an ecopass (thanks to my employer) and with it, we have to tap it every time I get on a train or a bus – whether it’s the first ride or a transfer.

            I agree, it’s seems so antiquated that there aren’t refillable cards for anyone who has a pass of a month or longer at this point. There are so many advantages to them – as you noted. Another question is – how do they actually know what the ridership numbers are when there’s no way to track it? When people taking transfers or using a monthly pass don’t have to validate it or “check in” in any other way.

            Such a weird system.

          • Véronique Bellamy

            The transfer allows unlimited transfers for a set time period, which is now printed on the transfer at the point of payment. I have a monthly pass that I buy at the Boulder Transit Centre every month.

            For a point of reference, there is a card in the Bay Area called a Clipper Card. You can store fare items on it from about 20 different transit agencies in the area. If I lived in Oakland and worked in the city, I can use one card to present my AC pass, get on the BART and present my Muni pass. 🙂

            But yeah, we seriously need to move our fare system into the 21st century. I want them to be NFC compatible to allow payment via contactless credit/debit cards and services like Google Wallet and Apple Pay.

          • R.W. Rynerson

            The ridership figures come from the Automatic
            Passenger Counters on randomly assigned light rail cars.

            Over a “runboard” (a timetable’s effective dates) enough samples are taken to provide reliable data. The statistics for weekday activity are broken down by station and are posted in the RTD website: