Tim Neville and Kimmi Lewis Want to Deny Affordable Transit Fares to Kids and Low-Wage Riders

If passed, the bill would undermine a local year-long effort aimed at creating fairer fares.

Senator Tim Neville and Representative Kimmi Lewis.
Senator Tim Neville and Representative Kimmi Lewis.

State Senator Tim Neville and Representative Kimmi Lewis have a message for kids and poor Coloradans who have trouble affording transit fares: Tough luck.

The lawmakers filed a bill on Monday to make fare discounts and “incentive programs” illegal without approval from the Colorado General Assembly.

The timing is not coincidental. An RTD-led working group just finished a year of deliberations over how to overhaul the transit agency’s fare pass options. Tonight, the RTD Board will consider the group’s recommendations to recalibrate the EcoPass program while expanding fare discounts to people who need them most.

The proposal would let kids 12 and under ride RTD for free, create a 70 percent discount for ages 13 to 19, and give low-wage residents a 40 percent discount. Those discounts are part of a suite of changes that would pay for themselves by 2021, according to RTD documents, and should actually increase ridership.

You’d think Neville, Lewis, and their gang of Republican co-sponsors would at least appreciate RTD’s effort to refresh its fare pass program and increase ridership at little-to-no cost. Apparently not. Streetsblog has calls into both of their offices.

“We have seen the bill draft and will leave it up to the General Assembly to debate its merits and determine its outcome,” said RTD spokesperson Scott Reed.

“The Pass Program Working Group has spent the last year collaboratively designing an equitable solution to fair fares,” Stephanie Seifried, a spokesperson for Mile High Connects, said in a statement. “The implementation and execution of the recommendation cannot be ‘derailed’ at any cost, especially by a suspiciously timed bill that could potentially revoke RTD’s ability and authority to follow through on the goals set by the Pass Program working group.

The bill has five sponsors in the Senate, where it was assigned to the finance committee, and seven in the House, where it has yet to be brought to committee. While it could have a path through the Senate, the measure seems unlikely to clear the Democrat-controlled House, let alone get the governor’s signature.

Still, it’s important to keep an eye on this proposal, which can only be described as spiteful, in case it picks up momentum or gets folded into other initiatives during the legislative session. This bill could also tangle up a bid to fund RTD by rerouting state subsidies for large retailers like Walmart, should a lawmaker introduce that bill this session.

Streetsblog will update this story as we get more information.

  • TakeFive

    ZZZZZZzzzzzzz…. This is a Yuge Nothing Burger. But…

    Just as I don’t see the legislature being involved in helping with ‘affordable’ RTD fares, neither should the legislature meddle into RTD business in any way, shape or form.

    • Some years back the courts found – in a fit of finesse – that RTD is a state “entity” – neither a state agency nor a constitutionally defined municipality or county. And because it is authorized under a separate section of Colorado statutes it’s easy to screw around with it at the capitol building because a large number of legislators have little interest in it. Some may even be attracted to anything that irks “Denver”. Senator Terry Considine of Colorado Springs admitted as much when asked at a District 4 Republican forum why his bill mandating exact details of private contract operation for RTD did not cover his own city.

      In the late 1980’s-early 1990’s the legislature averaged a drastic bill intervening in RTD every year. The measures were sloppily drafted (years later I heard from a DU Law student that he had a professor who shared that opinion). That made implementing the bills that actually passed tougher than necessary.

      The most ironic event in that era was late-bill passage in 1990 of SB208 which was designed to cleverly kill RTD “fixed guideway” transit without leaving fingerprints. It backfired.

      • TakeFive

        Hah… Thanks for the great feedback and insight. I never really followed the legislature ‘back when’ but I recall Terry Considine ‘syndicating’ some apartment projects. I’m sure it was discussed (by a lawyer) on a different blog but it was too many years ago that I don’t recall the details; only that there was some enabling legislation that allowed for self-defined districts to tax themselves for transit purposes.

  • Brooks

    I am confused why the legislature is concerning themselves with this…
    RTD is an independent government overseen by an elected board of directors. It is not a subsidiary of the State. So why is this even a thing?

    • TakeFive

      Only thing I can figure is it’s a counter-move to some who want the legislature to OK changes enabling a subsidy for RTD fares.

      Just a guess that in any given year fifty percent (or more) of the bills introduced have No Chance of passing; they’re only done for grandstanding purposes ie to please their so-called ‘base.’

  • Michael A. Wallin

    Its the “Whatever it is, I’m against it” Caucus.

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