Pulling out Your RTD Electronic Pass Twice for Each Train Ride Is a Hassle

This guest commentary is cross-posted at the Denver Urbanism Blog.

If, like me, you use one of the various card-based RTD pass options, then the process of using it with any of the city’s rail options should bother you.

2019-02-01_rtd-fare-validation-hassle_1-1200x1600xxCurrently, fare payment for rail is a two-step process that requires you to validate your RTD pass at a kiosk on or near the train platform before boarding and then once more upon boarding with a train security person doubling as a fare inspector. Security personnel on trains carry a handheld device (think of the handheld scanners used at grocery checkouts) that is placed against your pass to read it and return a message indicating whether or not the pass is valid.  I assume of course that there is a good reason for this but, for the average rider using a pass, the logic isn’t readily apparent and can be frustrating.

I have asked multiple RTD fare inspectors why this is and the closest I’ve gotten to a good answer is that the kiosk outside the train time-stamps the pass.

That riders of Denver’s rail system have to get out their passes no less than twice during a one-way trip seems silly and I’ve not come across any other transit system that works like that (except for a random audit of tickets and passes on, say, the New York City BRT system). This may not be a deterrent to rail ridership in Denver, but it’s a hassle that doesn’t make a lot of sense on its face.

2019-02-01_rtd-fare-validation-hassle_2-1200x1600xxStreamlining this clunky process would mean that fare inspection or validation occurs just once on the train using the device that security staff already carry with them and use to validate the validation. Admittedly, that could be costly if it means placing additional burden on RTD train operations to staff up and handle fare checks. In my experience on the A line, it’s a safe bet that you’ll have to show your pass soon after boarding, meaning that security staff already consistently ask passengers to show their fare anyway.

Here at DenverUrbanism we’re focused on not just the big issues but the small ones as well—this goes in the smaller-problem bucket. I’m in favor of an alternative fare payment system for rail in Denver where the platform validation kiosks are removed to streamline the payment and payment-validation process. It may not be a problem right now, but in a scenario where ridership sees significant increases, RTD will want to analyze areas for process improvement and this is one of them.