On Rosa Parks’ Birthday, Denver Advocates Rally for Fair Transit Fares

They're calling on legislators and the RTD Board of Directors to support funding for discount fare passes for low-income residents.

9to5 Colorado transit organizer Jenee Donelson rallies a crowd at Civic Center Station on Monday morning. Photo: David Sachs
9to5 Colorado transit organizer Jenee Donelson rallies a crowd at Civic Center Station on Monday morning. Photo: David Sachs

Civil rights heroine Rosa Parks, who made her stand by refusing to sit in the back of the bus, was born 105 years ago today. To mark the occasion, Denver transit advocates rallied in her name for more affordable fares for low-income residents.

The funding for the discount passes should be reallocated from a program that subsidizes the collection of sales tax by large retailers like Walmart, advocates say. Staff from Mile High Connects, United for a New Economy, 9to5 Colorado, the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, and the Montbello Organizing Committee gathered at Civic Center Station in the shadow of the capitol and made their case.

“The reason that it is such an important day today is because Rosa had courage and bravery and stood up for transit equity,” said Felicia Griffin, executive director of United for a New Economy, which advocates for Colorado workers. “It is something that is critical for Denver and our region. We have got to make sure that transit in Denver is accessible, affordable, and that service routes are available to all of our working families and communities.”

Griffin and the other advocates want state lawmakers to enact a “vendor credit reduction” to fund an income-based transit pass. The “vendor credit” is a reimbursement Colorado gives retailers to cover the cost of collecting sales tax. The bill would repurpose a portion those funds for the discounted fare program.

Only the largest retailers like Walmart and Target would be affected, according to the Colorado Fiscal Institute, which floated a version of the bill to a bipartisan committee before the 2018 legislative session began. The legislators on the committee could have fast-tracked the bill, but they chose not to after RTD failed to support it. The bill is currently without a sponsor in the legislature.

“We feel RTD is a public system and everyone should be able to ride no matter what their economic status is,” said Cross-Disability Coalition member Jaime Lewis, who uses a wheelchair and depends on transit to move around the city. “No one should be excluded from using public transportation.”

Given the likelihood that RTD will raise fares in 2019, getting a bill through this session is an urgent priority for advocates.

“For RTD to consistently raise the fares on a simple service that is supposed to get you from home to work, from school to work — all of the places that folks need to access to have a better, booming, vibrant economy… it is unethical, it is wrong, and it is becoming a civil rights issue,” said Jenee Donelson, the transit organizer at 9to5 Colorado.

Donelson urged transit riders to contact their state senators and representatives and support funding for income-based fare discounts via a vendor credit reduction. People should contact their RTD rep as well, Donelson said, because they answer directly to bus riders. “In order to get this work done, we have got to apply pressure to these folks,” she said.