Readers: Tell Us About the Hassles of Paying RTD Bus Fares

In Berlin, Adidas created limited-edition sneakers that come with a one-year transit pass embedded in the tongue of one of the shoes. (Jumping up to the validator is not required.) The city’s fare payment system allows people with wearable devices to walk onto to trains and buses without tapping at all. Photo courtesy of Adidas
In Berlin, Adidas created limited-edition sneakers that come with a one-year transit pass embedded in the tongue of one of the shoes. (Jumping up to the validator is not required.) The city’s fare payment system allows people with wearable devices to walk onto to trains and buses without tapping at all. Photo courtesy of Adidas

Before you take the bus, are you ready to pay the fare?

“Wait, how much is it, exactly?” you might ask. “And will I have to fight the money machine as it spits my bills out again and again before I can sit down?”

When people step on a bus, many get nervous about holding it up while they search for exact change or find a transfer ticket. This “farebox anxiety” discourages some from riding transit, said Joseph Schwieterman, director of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University in Chicago.

“I call it the transit hassle factor,” he said. As credit cards and mobile phone tap-to-go payments have accelerated how we pay for nearly everything, buying a bus fare remains stuck with outdated technologies. “I can’t think of anywhere else in the economy where you feel a need to run to 7-Eleven to get change to go purchase something.”

That’s why Streetsblog wants to know: Before hopping on the bus, how much hassle and worry will you put up with? Does it ever keep you from taking transit? Because even for Schwieterman, a committed transit rider, he recently threw his hands up and got into a car.

“I was just in D.C. three weeks ago and I had the perfect bus. But I just didn’t want to deal with it,” he said. “I didn’t know if it was two dollars, or two and a quarter. Is my dollar gonna be crumpled and it won’t accept when I get on board? … I just took an Uber.”

If he were in Denver, Schwieterman could have used the Uber app to pay his bus fare.

Earlier this year, the ride-hail company started offering transit directions for Regional Transportation District trips within its app. More recently, the ride-hail company started selling transit tickets within its app, too. Uber offers a much better ticket-buying experience than RTD’s nightmare of a mobile app. It’s also more useful than RTD’s MyRide tap-to-pay card, which lacks critical features, like automatic reloading and the ability to use discounts and transit passes.

While the Uber integration is welcome, it still requires having an account and going through a series of steps that can take a minute or two.

But as we approach the second decade of the 21st century, why can’t you just pay instantly with a contactless credit card or mobile phone?

In many cities, including London, you can ride the Tube or any bus with a contactless credit card or your phone. New York’s subway will soon allow payments from a mobile phone. And in Berlin, a pair of limited-edition Adidas sneakers offered a one-year transit pass embedded in the tongue of the shoe. The shoes require no validation: the train just knows where you board and where you get off.

As Denver’s traffic worsens and bus ridership continues to plummet, how is it that buying an Aquafina from a vending machine is easier than boarding a bus?

Tell us about your farebox hassles and anxieties. Share your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter, Facebook or Reddit.

  • Todd Bradley

    My RTD farebox hassles are unbelievable. When I get on the bus, I wave my wallet in front of a magic panel located right by my right arm at the top of the stairs. It beeps, and I sit down. Geez, can’t they make this more convenient and less triggering?

    • TM

      That’s great for the few people that have those cards, most people don’t and they have not made them easy to get or add money to.

      • TakeFive

        And what is the reason why so “few people” have these cards? Laziness?

      • Todd Bradley

        I don’t remember my card being any sort of hassle to get. I went to the website and ordered one, and they mailed it to me. And when I needed to add more money to it, I went to the website and added money.

        If you prefer to buy one in person, they’re available at every Safeway and King Soopers store, and at several bus stations in the region. Sure, it would be nice if 7-Eleven sold them, but everybody in the district lives, works, or passes by a supermarket every day.

        • TM

          Wow, maybe other people’s experiences are different than yours. Just because things are easy for you, does not mean they are for everyone.
          Should have know by your stupid and entirely incorrect use of the word triggering that you were just a troll though.

          • Todd Bradley

            “Tell us about your farebox hassles and anxieties” is what the article says. The author didn’t ask for me to write about other people’s farebox hassles and anxieties – only my own. Speaking of which, why are you wasting your time commenting on my experiences rather than sharing your own? Try to follow directions, TM.

          • TM

            You could have told about your own experience without also being sarcastic and dismissing the idea that other people might have different experience and more difficulty than you did, but you didn’t do that, did you? You had to be a prick.

        • Emmeaki

          That’s the problem. You have to mail away for the card or go to some specific location to get it, which is not easy if you are a bus rider. I’ve lived in and visited several other major cities and you can get a fare card right there at any train station and many bus stations. This is since the 90s. In 2019, it’s inconceivable not to have this is a large city like Denver.

          • Todd Bradley

            @Emmeaki:disqus, how did you get your card?

          • Emmeaki

            I went to Union Station. I had just moved to this city and that area was all I knew at the time. I’m glad that my job provides a monthly pass now!

  • TakeFive

    So London and Berlin. Interesting but most of us aren’t lucky enough to be world travelers. NYC pending? DC, not so much? Those two are part of the Original Six great transit cities. But it’s easier to Uber in DC than ride transit? That does say a lot.

    Just curious? What does RTD say about where we’ve been, where we’re at now and where we are going and how much will it cost?

  • Brent Mowery

    The RTD mobile ticketing app works great for me.

  • disqus_1ovoN8fGFr

    I just show the driver/TSO my monthly pass, pretty easy, actually…

  • ax12yz

    I don’t understand why this page complains so much about RTDs mobile ticket app. I use it 2 or 3 times a week with the day pass and don’t really have any (major) issues with it, in fact I think it is very convenient and am glad this option is available. My ride cards could be better, but overall still work reasonably well. So of the many issues I have with RTD (from waiting in the snow for 30 minutes to slow overall speeds to the fact that RTD seems to have found the only empty spaces in Denver and put its train stations there), paying for tickets is not really one of them. Perhaps RTD could advertise these options more, but I can’t see many people not choosing RTD due to the ticket payment options if they weren’t already not wanting to take RTD in the first place and are looking for an excuse not to do so. That doesn’t mean things can’t be improved, but it also doesn’t need to be overly emphasized.

  • TM

    I have had good luck with the mobile app, that gets rid of the problem of not having exact change, though it does take a couple minutes to buy the ticket so it’s not easy to do if you see a bus coming and want to get on it. And of course it’s of no use to people who don’t have a smartphone.
    If not for reading this blog, I’d have no idea that either the app or the My Ride card even existed. RTD works for those who know the system, but if you don’t ride regularly or just came in from out of town, it’s very difficult to use. When I travel to other cities it’s easy to use their transit systems, but I’d be lost on RTDs if I was visiting here. Most cities you can buy a fare card at a station that will be good for your whole time there, here apparently you have to go to a grocery store or order one online and wait weeks for it to be mailed to you?
    Outside of rail stations, there are no places to buy tickets, no route maps, no information at all. For a visitor or someone who would ride occasionally, it’s almost useless. It works for regular riders that know the system and that’s it.

  • Tyler

    My company offers the EcoPass. I keep it in a pocket on the back of my phone and have no complaints. My wife uses the app and is happy with it.

  • Ian Santopietro

    Just buy your fare in the app. They’re good on busses and trains, and you can buy it with a debit card before the bus even gets there. Pretty plainly easy.

  • Camera_Shy

    We have MyRide cards (2) so we are in the minority for sure. Using the card is fine, no issues there. My only gripe is that when we add money to the card it takes 24-48 hours for the money to appear on the card – so one does not want to let the balance get too low or you might see a gap in your ability to ride the RTD. Not an issue for us as we don’t ride everyday, or even every week.

  • CD890

    I buy local bus passes at King Soopers. It pays for one trip and a 3-hour pass. If they run out of ticket books, or if I am unable to be at the store during the hours the Customer Service desk is open, then I have to get cash back from 7 Eleven. I try to keep at least 10 dollars in singles in my purse to pay for bus rides.

  • LazyReader

    Think the better question is why are RTD bus fares so high to begin with?
    Cities that spend billions of dollars on light rail projects like Denver inevitably decrease or terminate bus services to pay for the construction costs that inevitably rise beyond projected budgets when the projects were decided upon…… in point almost every light rail project in the last 30 years. Or raise bus fares to the detriment of it’s ridership to pay for the inevitable cost overruns.

    But this trend is not exclusive to Denver; low-income transit riders are giving up on transit. They have been for years. Transit ridership has been steadily on the decline since 2014; in some US cities it’s experienced double digit percentage declines. Transit systems growing costs of operation and declining service to make up for those costs are shifting poor people into autos. Constant service cuts, Billions in deferred maintenance debacles among legacy systems, exuberant rail construction costs, building useless rail routes in suburban annexes (in some vain attempt to get suburbanites out of their cars) instead of urban confines where they would do some actual good, decreasing quality and increasing lewd behavior and criminal activity have all played their part in transits slow decline. Never mind the fact rail was rendered obsolete by buses in the 1920s.

    The constant add-on of numerous redundant employees have made transit systems nationwide vastly unproductive. In 1960, when most transit agencies were private, transit carried ~60,000 trips per working employee each year. Today it is less than 25,000 trips. In an era in which employee productivity in most industries is rapidly growing, in transit it is declining. The transit industry has become more a bloated bureaucracy and rail tycoon empire than a transportation provider. Combine ALL this with the fact the industry has evolved to depend on taxpayer funding for patronage; where subsidies account for over 70% of it’s operating costs and nearly ALL it’s capital costs.

  • Jenoside

    I haven’t used the mobile ticketing app a lot, but every time I have used it, it hasn’t been an issue. I don’t know why you’re such haters on it. Seems like for a blog devoted to increasing transportation options and making commuting better and easier you guys sure like to shit on what is actually a reasonably well run transit system. You want to see shit transit, go visit Florida.

  • Mark Rosenstein

    Monthly pass user that commutes from Boulder to Denver here – it’s unusual to have a paper slip that the drivers have to look at instead of using the scanner like everybody else. Additionally, drivers are often unfamiliar with what the new pass looks like during the monthly changeovers, which I imagine is probably pretty annoying on their end – would be way more convenient if you could just pay for a monthly pass on your MyRide card and recharge it monthly, which is a functionality that a lot of transit systems have (The SF bay area’s Clipper card is a good example of this, and it also works on multiple transit agencies!)

    I also lost my wallet recently and my pass along with it, which led to the nasty realization that there’s a) no backup system in the event of a lost pass and b) RTD doesn’t even pro-rate the cost of the monthly passes for how many days are left in the month. Lost your pass on May 2nd? That’ll be $114 for a local pass or $200 for a regional. Lost your pass on May 13th? That’ll be $114 for a local pass or $200 for a regional. Lost your pass on May 24th? Just buy a ticket book because it’s still $114 for a local pass or $200 for a regional pass and there’s only a week left in the month.

    Also a royal pain having to consistently have $2.25 (which is the price of FULL bus fare in most other metro areas, but RTD’s absurd fares are worthy of their own conversation) to upgrade your (three hour!) fare from a local pass to a regional one – always need to have quarters on you, or else you’re paying almost an entire dollar extra just because you don’t have the right amount of change.