By Shawn Chitnis

DENVER (CBS4) – The Regional Transportation District wants customers to participate in a study this year to ensure its service is more accessible to Coloradans over 18 months. RTD General Manager and CEO Debra Johnson told CBS4 on Tuesday the agency needs to establish a comment set of facts on their fare structure.

“Our fares are very complicated, and they’re hard to understand,” she said on a video conference call.

Not only is a cost a concern, the agency acknowledges its fares are some of the most expensive in the country, but equity is another major component of the study. Johnson says it is the most comprehensive of its kind, acknowledging RTD’s responsibility to uphold Title XI of the Civil Rights Act because the agency receives federal funding.

(credit: CBS)

“There are some things that have been brought to my attention through engagement activities that I’ve had,” Johnson said. “I think it’s more important to understand from our customers what their pain points are.”

Riders at the 18th & California light rail stop in downtown Denver shared a few concerns on Tuesday afternoon. RTD is convenient for those who commute into downtown regularly, but one man said he wouldn’t use the service as often if his employer didn’t pay for his pass.

Another explained the confusion he runs into when trying to transfer lines or make a round trip.

“I normally take it to work, sometimes I’m not driving. I ride it downtown because you know parking is terrible,” said Wendell Martin, an RTD passenger. “You should be able to use your fare to go back home instead of paying another fare. I do think that’s unfair.”

RTD says it wants to pursue extensive multicultural outreach, connecting with BIPOC (Black, indigenous and people of color) communities as well as youth, seniors, people with disabilities, veterans, unhoused residents, and the LGBTQ+ community.

“We know that they’re burdening our low-income community members,” said Molly McKinley, the Vice Chair of the Denver Streets Partnership. “The people who need to access public transportation most so this is the kind of change that will make real change in people’s lives.”

Advocates say this is a step in the right direction to make sure RTD is not only affordable and accessible but also providing frequent and reliable service to riders. It comes more than a year into the pandemic when essential workers have remained with public transportation.

(credit: CBS)

“The reality is that the folks who need transit most have been using it during the pandemic and continue to rely on it,” McKinley said. “I think those folks need to be prioritized in this conversation.”

While essential workers have turned to RTD, others have avoided the service in part because of the potential fear of spreading COVID-19. Johnson points out there isn’t any data to show that public transit is a super spreader. She also believes the service will play an important role in getting people back to the city core and engaging again with their community in person.

“As long as you have people on this planet, they’re going to need to get places,” she said. “Public transportation, it may not be what we knew it to be a year from now but we do recognize that it’s still going to be viable.”

The study will begin in July, any recommendations or findings that come out of the study after 18 months will need to be approved by RTD’s board before changes can take effect.

Shawn Chitnis