Meet RTD District “A” Candidate Kate Williams: “More Rides for More People”

Kate Williams.

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.

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

  • Most used RTD route: 83 and 11 buses (owns a car)
  • Day job: Area resource coordinator with A3 (formerly American Council for the Blind and Visually Impaired)
  • Lives in: Washington Virginia Vale
  • Facebook

What makes you the best person to rep transit riders in District A?

I’m an advocate for the disabled and elderly. In my previous work, I ran a sports center for the disabled, I ran a shelter for victims of domestic violence, I ran a camp for inner city kids, all of whom are transit dependent. When I first got to Colorado, I ran a senior center that is the largest provider of transportation in Douglass County. So my life has been tied around people who are transit dependent. And it’s just a logical flop for me to want to be involved at a policy-making level. It’s just time for me to step up the game.

Why do you feel like you need to “step up the game” now? Why are you running?

I’m running because a lot of people asked me to. I have no political aspirations. I’ve never had any political aspirations. But when the RTD election came up and roughly half of the Board of Directors was leaving, a number of people said, “Where do you live, is your district up, and would you go do it?” And so me being the “yes” kind of person that I am, I said yes. Had I known then what would’ve been involved, I would have said, “Who else can we talk to?”

But then collecting signatures was one of the most humbling experiences I’ve ever had in my life. It really made me convinced that it was something I wanted to do, because I talked to thousands of people in order to get 463 signatures. So that really convinced me, because people would ask me what I would do different.

What did you tell them?

More rides for more people. That’s the bottom line.

What does that mean?

As our population increases, as it ages, we need to look at transit services for everybody. Access-a-ride is geared toward people who are disabled. And traditionally, you and I and everybody else thinks of that as someone being in a wheelchair. People who are visually impaired can’t drive. They are transit dependent. People whose income does not allow them to purchase a car are transit dependent. People who live around Union Station and can’t find any place to park are transit dependent. So I want our transit system to look at everybody as a potential transit user — school kids, old people, millennials who live in high-rises.

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

What does that look like for the system? How do you get there?

I think Denver has a really good backbone. I think that’s what RTD has done for the last 12 years, since the onset of FasTracks. What we don’t have now are all the capillaries. We have a backbone, we have some arteries — the number 83 is a great example.

This is one of the things I heard from people in Cherry Creek, where you wouldn’t expect transit to be an issue from an income basis. A lot of those people are older. They are losing their ability to drive. They’re like, “Great A train to the airport. How to I get to the A train?” They walk 14 blocks from their house to get on the 83, and they take the 83 to the Colorado Boulevard bus line, go north on Colorado, and get on the A train at 40th and Colorado.

I think we need more, smaller bus routes. Smaller buses and more of them, more often. You see all the articulated buses. At rush hour, they’re full, but they’re only full at rush hour. And otherwise that’s a lot of money driving back and forth on the road, sometimes with very few people.

Do you believe it’s RTD’s role to grow ridership?

I think it’s immaterial. Because RTD’s charter is to serve the population. The regional population is growing by 95,000 people a year. I don’t think they have any choice to grow ridership or not. It’s gonna grow. The question is, what is RTD doing to provide more services for the growing people who need to use it?

What other shortfalls do you see that you want to fix?

I think that RTD is right on the cusp of something big. FasTracks is about done, and I’m not sure that they know where they want to go next. And I think Denver as a city is in the exact same position. I think we’re not a small town anymore, I think we are poised to be one of the premier towns in the United States, but I think now we need to look outside of the box.

There’s been a lot of talk about King County — Seattle — about how they do their fare program, there’s been a lot of talk about fare subsidies for low-income people. There’s all kinds of stuff going on, percolating. I don’t think that the RTD Board, in the past, has been open to that kind of input. They had FasTracks going on. Now I think that if they aren’t, we’re gonna get behind the eight ball.

Do you think fares are fair right now?

I think you get what you pay for. I think that people who can pay should pay, people who cannot pay should not pay. But in order for that to be a viable option, we have to look for some public-private partnerships, because the money has to come from someplace. The guy who’s changing the tires on the bus isn’t donating his time, and RTD is not, I don’t think, popping out profits at all. Better fares, more buses — well, it’s one or the other. So that’s where I think public-private partnership needs to happen more.

How can you make your presence known on a board full of people who also have to rep their districts?

I need to be open to what everybody else has, and then I need to say, “I get that you have people who are out on dirt roads that need more — here we are again at my platform — more, smaller service.” That’s what they also need in Evergreen. That’s what they need in Louisville.

So you’re talking about finding common ground.

That’s who I am.

What’s RTD’s role in affordable housing and development in general?

There’s a twofold answer to that. A lot of what’s going on now is not where we want to go. There’s a trailer park out on 225 just south of Alameda that has 100 families in it. Most of them are very low-income, a number of them are disabled. There are also a lot minorities living there. There’s a move afoot to tear that down and put a high-rise up there that, you know, will be transit-oriented development. In fact, none of those people are going to be able to afford to live there. And those people are transit dependent. So I’m not real sure yet. It’s one of the things I need to learn about from being on the board — because for some reason housing is getting all the press, when in fact housing and transit are hand-in-hand.

Stay tuned for interviews with other RTD candidates.