Next Week Is Your Chance to Weigh in On RTD’s Fare Pass Overhaul, Which Isn’t a Slam Dunk

Foto: David Sachs
Foto: David Sachs

As you’ve probably heard, the Regional Transportation District  is overhauling its fare pass program to make it more accessible to more people — especially residents with lower incomes. Reps from all over the region spent a year working with the transit agency to compose a suite of changes that would streamline fare pass options and increase ridership.

But the elected RTD Board of Directors must still approve that package to make it reality, and there’s no guarantee they will. They could approve the changes as is, or just pieces of it, or none of it all. (The process was highly complex and it’s unclear how cherry-picking pieces of the package would affect the outcome.)

Before Board members vote on the package (likely this fall), RTD will hold eight meetings — three in Denver — where the public an show support for the proposed changes. They start next week:

West Boulder Senior Center
909 Arapahoe Avenue
Monday, July 16, 2018
6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Englewood Civic Center
1000 Englewood Pkwy
Community Room, 2nd floor
Wednesday, July 18, 2018
6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Clements Community Center
1580 Yarrow Street
Thursday, July 19, 2018
6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Boys and Girls Club of Metro Denver
4397 Crown Boulevard
Saturday, July 21, 2018
Noon – 2:00 p.m.

Aurora Municipal Center
15151 E. Alameda Parkway City Café, 2nd Floor
Monday, July 23, 2018
6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

South Denver
Thomas Jefferson High School
3950 S. Holly Street
Tuesday, July 24, 2018
6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Downtown Denver
RTD Administrative Offices
1660 Blake Street,
Rooms T & D
Wednesday, July 25, 2018
Noon – 2:00 p.m.

Margaret W. Carpenter Recreation Center
11151 Colorado Blvd
Rooms B & C
Thursday, July 26, 2018
6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

And here are the proposed changes, as adopted in the spring:

A 40 percent discount for low-income riders

Transit is a lifeline for a lot of people, but not everyone can afford to ride RTD, whose sprawling system costs riders more here than in peer cities.

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Note: Seattle’s fare reflects a planned increase. Image: Four Nines Technologies

The group will recommend a 40 percent discount pass for people who live at 185 percent of the federal poverty level. So a family of four making about $46,000 or less would qualify, according to federal guidelines.

Transit advocates from Mile High Connects and 9to5 Colorado say a 50 percent discount is critical. The working group will include language in its recommendation that encourages RTD to provide a half-off fare at some unknown point, but the group won’t officially get behind it because they couldn’t make the numbers work.

Some kids ride free, others get a 70 percent discount

Riders age 12 and under would ride fare-free. Thirteen to 19-year-olds would get a pass good for 70 percent off the standard fare. Institutions including Denver Public Schools would administer the passes.

Calibrating the EcoPass and CollegePass

Some businesses get bargain basement deals and others get the shaft when they buy EcoPasses in bulk. That’s because different companies have employees using the system in different ways — some may use RTD everyday and travel 20 miles, while others may use it rarely and travel two miles, but the cost of the programs to employers don’t always align with reality.

Businesses that provide EcoPasses would pay RTD a fee that’s more in line with how employees are using the system, so the price will rise for some and fall for others in what some working group members have called “right-sizing.” The exact formula is still being discussed.

Under the new setup, RTD will base the CollegePass pricing on how people actually used the transit system in 2016 — an estimated 20 percent increase in price over three years. The risk here is that the University of Colorado, for instance, won’t be incentivized to provide passes as a benefit for students.

A system-wide fare hike?

Every few years RTD revisits its fare prices and considers adjusting them. The group assumed a 2019 local, one-way fare of $3 (a 40 cent increase) and a regional fare of $5.25 (a 75 cent increase) to make the math work.

Transit advocates from 9to5 Colorado say a fare increase undercuts any affordability in-need residents would get — but the recommendation could also very well keep the hike from going any higher a year from now.

A more flexible ride

Transfers as we know them will be gone. In their place, riders will have a three-hour window to travel in any direction for the price of a single-trip fare.

Will more people ride buses and trains as a result?

Despite the Denver region’s massive population growth and the opening of the A, B, and R lines, RTD’s ridership has dropped for four years straight. The new suite of transit passes — combined with other adjustments, like scrapping discounts for people who use the MyRide card and the 10-ride ticket book — could change that.

As RTD increases access for some groups, revenue is expected to grow. Image: Four Nines Technologies
As RTD increases access for some groups, revenue is expected to grow. Image: Four Nines Technologies

Ridership is a key metric for transit agencies because it reflects the quality of their service. The changes would see ridership grow 2 percent faster than if the pass program remained the same, according to the number crunchers, in part because of increased access for low-income riders. The new suite of passes would equate to an estimated 100 million annual boardings in 2019 and 104 million in 2021.

Those numbers are lower than RTD’s ridership in 2014 (about 105 million). They’re also based on a lot of ifs: Will enough colleges and businesses keep their contracts with RTD after prices change? Will businesses continue to offer transit passes as benefits? Will the N Line open on time?

Money left on the table?

One thing group members were ordered not to assume in their recommendations? Policy changes that would provide RTD with more funding, including a potential bill in the state legislature that would raise $10 million annually for affordable fares.