While it is still in the public input stage, it seems clear that the new proposed RTD fare structure is being built to strengthen the high profile and sometimes much maligned light rail system.
Light rail has many fans in the Denver area, just not many riders.
I can say this from experience, because I use light rail on occasion and it rolls past my office window several times an hour every day.
The other easy way to substantiate the fact that not many people ride light rail is the fact that a key part of the new fare proposal is a one rate fare for all zones to the suburbs that is a 48 percent reduction from the current fare.
If people were paying the $5 it takes to go from Union Station to Park Meadows, RTD would have no reason to change the fare.
Making that connection does not take a degree in public transit policy studies.
But what may not be as obvious is a potential political plan that RTD may be building up.
Everyone knows that under the current financing plan, the FasTracks project will reach its final build out near 2040.
This is a bitter sticking point for folks currently paying taxes for the project on the north side of town.
RTD has stated that they have no plans to seek further tax hikes to speed up completion. It is hard to raise taxes in Colorado, especially for a project that has already had various funding problems.
But what can help the general public opinion of the entire project is to make it easier and more affordable to ride light rail, especially to the suburbs.
I can tell you from personal experience that while the location of the light rail is extremely convenient for me, I do not ride often due to the cost. I cannot imagine I am alone.
I can also say that if a ride to the suburbs, which is now between $4-5, goes to $2.60, it would be a much more attractive option.
I do not think that is lost on RTD as it looks to the future and knows that expansion of light rail relies upon increased ridership.
Since public input is still being sought and a big part of the plan raises bus fares for everyone, including low income riders, by 35 cents, the decision is far from final.
But with a 48 percent decrease for light rail suburban riders, there seems to be a distinct strategy to boost the popularity of light rail for future campaigns.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I think it’s always a good idea to approach these kinds of proposed changes with our eyes open.
Remember, prices go down to boost demand. If demand grows substantially, building more light rail becomes a viable need.
I’m not saying we should, nor am I saying that we shouldn’t.
I’m just saying we shouldn’t be surprised if we get asked.
About The Blogger
– Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Dezzutti is also the host and producer of the Emmy award winning “Colorado Inside Out” on Colorado Public Television.