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 We have an outdated payment system.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.

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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.