RTD Moves to Cut Bus Service as 2019 Fare Hike Looms

The impending cuts will reduce service on several city routes: The 3L, 10, 20, 24, 26, 27, 46, 73, and the Free MallRide on the 16th Street Mall.

Photo: David Sachs
Photo: David Sachs

The Regional Transportation District will cut service on 18 local and regional bus routes in August — the second round of service cuts this year. Meanwhile, one-way fares for bus and train riders could rise from $2.60 to $3.00 next year.

The impending cuts will reduce service on several city routes: The 3L, 10, 20, 24, 26, 27, 46, 73, and the Free MallRide on the 16th Street Mall. Service in Boulder and some suburbs will also be thinned out.

While the RTD Board approved the cuts two weeks ago, as of today, the agency’s website still doesn’t accurately reflect the final changes. RTD documents [PDF] list the cuts in their entirety, as well as comments received by the public.

The combination of service cuts and fare hikes reflects the tight RTD budget. At a time when Colorado is prepared to spend billions of dollars widening I-70, the biggest transit agency in the state is in austerity mode, making life more difficult for bus riders. RTD can’t even afford to staff all of its scheduled bus service with drivers.

The August service cuts will trim $2 million in annual spending from RTD’s budget. But that savings exacts a huge price on people who depend on the bus to get to work, school, or the grocery store.

Bus cuts can be life-changing, says 9to5 Colorado transit organizer Jenee Donelson. “It’s demeaning to be told that you can’t get to your job on time for the basic means in life,” she said. “It’s demoralizing. On the human level, the impacts can’t be weighed… People have been telling me they have to go back to jail just because they can’t afford to ride the bus or because the route’s been cut or a driver did not show up. This is supposed to be a society that praises re-entry.”

RTD Board members will likely raise one-way fares from $2.60 to between $2.90 and $3 next year. Offsetting the impact of that fare hike, however, will be the debut of discount transit passes for low-income residents and other elements of the fare pass overhaul intended to improve access to RTD’s system.

Still, the combination of service cuts and fare hikes is never a good sign. RTD has fundamental weaknesses that impede its ability to function as a convenient, reliable transit system for Denver. The agency is too vulnerable to the volatile swings of sales tax revenue, and resources are spread too thin, shortchanging the urban core, where transit is most needed, in relation to the sprawling foothill exurbs.

Mayor Michael Hancock claims he wants to deliver a robust transit system for the city, but Denverites are still waiting on City Hall’s blueprint to make that happen. That plan is due out in late July, according to the project manager.

  • TakeFive

    Denver is might lucky they set up RTD decades ago and fund it via (primarily) sales taxes within the RTD district. It’s a much better system than going begging to the state for funding as some do.

    ‘Politics is a fickle mistress”

    State funding for public transportation was cut 26 percent in the budget passed last month by the Republican-controlled General Assembly. That has local agencies like Charlotte Area Transit System scrambling to replace the funds.

    Lawmakers shrank the size of the State Maintenance Assistance Program, which helps local bus and transit systems pay for things like drivers’ salaries, fuel, insurance and vehicle maintenance.

    Twin cities which has historically had a friendly ear at the statehouse is now facing their own funding issues. OTOH, places like Seattle and Phoenix which have chosen to secure funding from the citizens that directly benefit are doing fabulous.

    Btw, I’ll go out on a limb to suggest in spite of Denver’s generally conservative approach to budgeting that they will not be able to deliver all promised projects from last November’s bond initiative unless they find additional city funds.

    At the risk of being too obvious, if you have a problem that requires more money to fix then you need to find more money to fix it.

  • Bjorn

    There’s no good short-term option for RTD. Customers are abandoning unreliable service; fixing service reliability requires more drivers; more drivers will only work if pay is increased; increasing pay necessities service cuts; customers abandon RTD after service is cut.

  • EMB

    Do they define “midday”? It would be useful to know exactly which departures are being cut.

    • Camera_Shy

      “In effort to better match service levels to ridership demands on the Free Mall Ride, this proposal adjusts the service frequency of the Mall Shuttle from every 90 seconds to every 180 seconds between the hours of 11:00am and 1:00pm on weekdays.”

      • Lakewood Ed

        Start walking until a bus catches up with you . . and keep on walking.

    • kim80

      I define “midday” for pubic transit service as between the rush hours. No doubt, RTD has a more complicated and useless definition.

  • MikeSchoenberg

    even the Mall rides

  • Trinkar

    Increase funding for the RTD so it can become an effective alternative to cars. Colorado car registration fees are absurdly low. Cars and distracted/incompetent drivers have become a pestilence in Denver. Double or triple the registration fee, give the new funds to the RTD, and create a safer, more livable city for everyone.

    • Lakewood Ed

      So, have people’s registration fees go from $400 to $1200, $500 to $1500 for something they don’t use? The socialism is strong in this one.

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