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.

  • mckillio

    Can you tap your phone for this? If not that’s pretty ridiculous as it would be much less inconvenient for people to pull out their phones.

    I’ve also never understood why in the RTD app you have to active your ticket even though the ticket expires in 24 hrs anyways.

    • enguy

      I think it only applies for College/Ecopasses that are distributed as scannable cards.

    • EMB

      If you’re buying tickets with the phone app, you’ve got at least a month to activate them before they expire. Likely more–it’s been a while since I checked and I don’t currently have any unused tickets in the app. Once you’ve activated them, it’s the usual 24-hour or 3-hour window, depending which you bought.

  • iBikeCommute


  • enguy

    I’m not sure how the author hasn’t encountered this before? Seattle, among other cities, has a nearly identical proof of payment system.

  • TakeFive

    The one and only time I rode, I bought my all-day pass and boarded. I made four trips that day on commuter rail and recall I was ‘verified’ each time while riding. Yes, it was a bit of a hassle but that’s b/c I’m not one to board w/o having paid. It was hardly a big deal however.

  • John Riecke

    Agreed. I recall hearing that it was a cost saving measure so that fencing and turnstiles wouldn’t have to be added to every station.

    • TakeFive

      Fencing? Don’t you mean a “big wall or steel barrier” (LOL)

      Glad you made this point; the more I think about this the more I like the idea. No fussing with turnstiles is good and I also like it for another reason. While it might not be a thing to Xavier, you and I, for many the added ‘security’ element is important, especially on the Train to the Planes. They also check for tickets on the B Line which is fine; feeling safe and comfortable is nice.

  • EMB

    There are three main options for handling train fares: access control before boarding (turnstiles, walls, fences), fare checks after boarding (conductors/police), free fares (no overhead, but no revenue, either). RTD’s opted out of #1 and retrofitting our stations won’t be easy, so #2 or #3 are pretty much it.

    The A line’s the only one with almost-guaranteed fare checks; it’s a lot more like other traditional rail systems like NJTransit than like RTD’s light rail lines in that way. Travelers on other lines are much less likely to see enforcement on a given trip, partly because stops are much closer together on the light rail lines and it’s harder for anyone checking fares to make it through a full car between stops, even working in pairs.

    If you primarily ride the light rail but aren’t using a monthly pass, it’s easy to feel a bit foolish for swiping your card/stamping your paper ticket/activating your phone ticket every day. (Obviously it’s the right thing to do and has the major benefit of never needing to worry on the rare occasions you do encounter a fare check.)

    My personal petty wish for RTD fare process improvement is that the ticket machines, card validators, and ticket timestamp machines get locations on the platforms (at stations where they’re not already there). It’d be a heck of a lot easier to be sure I’m going to catch my train if I could use the elevator to get to the platform first, and deal with ticket validation while I’m waiting. I’ve missed trains by validating a ticket then getting stuck waiting for an elevator. (Leave earlier? Ha, no.)

    • TakeFive

      Well stated; nIce comment.

    • Camera_Shy

      I’ve always suspected they put the validators away form the train platform to prevent people from hopping off a train to validate, then hopping back on to continue their journey. i.e. if I see that an inspector is boarding, then I can easily validate my ticket/pass, get back on, and continue on my way. Perhaps a bit of a stretch, but that’s the only reason I could come up with for not having the validators next to the tracks, or even in the train car.

      • Camera_Shy

        Today we rode the W line, and I saw a pass scanner on the platform at Wadsworth. Not sure if it has always been there, or if there is a ticket-stamp validator on the platform.

  • Camera_Shy

    Are you saying that a fare inspector should not have to look at a person’s ticket/pass? How would a fare inspector verify a rider’s payment without asking for proof? I am confused.