What the Public Needs From an RTD Transit Pass

Available passes don't reach residents with low incomes, many of whom — students in particular — depend on transit.

Photo: David Sachs
Photo: David Sachs

RTD and a cadre of transit advocates continued their quest to get the agency’s bus and rail passes into more people’s hands yesterday in Park Hill, the second gathering of what will be a year-long effort.

Right now, most RTD passes award discounts for being affiliated with institutions — like the EcoPass, which caters to big businesses, or the CollegePass, which helps college students cover transit fares.

Transit benefits are a good way to generate ridership, but RTD’s current setup is “oriented towards affluence,” as one advocate put it. The available passes don’t reach low-income residents, many of whom are transit-dependent, particularly students.

“Education is a gift,” said Miguel Aguerre, a high school student at DSST Cole, who spoke at the working group Tuesday. “And when that gift is jeopardized by simple things like how you’re gonna get there, it shows the true colors of modern-day society.”

Aguerre lives in Montbello, about nine miles away from his school. He qualifies for a free bus pass paid for by Denver Public Schools. But some of his peers have to pay $66 a month to get to and from school, he said. “I don’t know about other kids, but for me, I never really received an allowance,” he said.

Denver has “school choice,” meaning parents can opt to send their kids to schools in other neighborhoods. Yet DPS doesn’t have comprehensive yellow bus service — just partial coverage with a service called “Success Express.” DPS purchases about 2,500 RTD passes for high school students monthly, according to Chalkbeat, but the school system has 92,000 kids.

The working group is keeping every option on the table, at least for now. For instance, members will research how much a free pass for every Denver resident under 18 would cost. The big question is — and this is a question for any pass the group comes up with — who would pay for it. DPS? The city’s general fund? RTD?

Moving young people around the region without breaking the bank was a theme of yesterday’s public input session. Sharon Battle, a church pastor, has three kids. She said more accessible transit would help them immensely.

“I’m concerned about cost of transportation for students in my home and in my community,” she said. “I’m concerned about not being able to get a low-cost EcoPass, something that companies get. I want [my kids] to be able to go to rec centers, libraries, and other community programs.”

For Battle, access to transit is also a safety issue. She doesn’t want her son driving yet, even though he’s old enough.

“When I say safety, what I mean by that is, I know that [my son] can get transportation with RTD and isn’t picking up a ride from someone else,” she said. “And I don’t necessarily want him to be driving these places himself, because he’s a young African-American man in our community. I’m not ready for him to drive yet.”

The process is just beginning. Expect nine more meetings over the next year before the group makes recommendations to the RTD Board of Directors.