By Brian Maass

DENVER (CBS4)– Debra Johnson, the CEO and General Manager of RTD told board members Tuesday night that “trace amounts” of the powerful opioid fentanyl had been found in a Union Station bus terminal bathroom but that the amounts were not at a dangerous level. Still, Johnson said two bathrooms and five elevators in the facility were closed down for remediation and out of “an abundance of caution.”

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The elevators have since reopened, RTD told CBS4 on Thursday, but Johnson said the bathrooms would remain closed until at least the end of the year so permanent doors can be put in place, in an apparent attempt to curb the rampant drug use taking place in the bus terminal bathrooms.

Johnson briefed RTD board members about the “unwanted activities” at the transit hub, “Including the use and sale of illicit drugs as well as aggressive behaviors that have become commonplace in recent months.”

A CBS4 report last week shed light on the deterioration at Union Station. The president of one transit union called it “a hellhole.”

During an early morning visit last week, CBS4 documented dozens of people in the bus terminal asleep or passed out on the floor, others appearing to smoke illegal drugs at will, and several threats of violence.

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During the visit, a security guard warned that parts of the facility, like bathrooms and elevators, were unsafe for the public.

“Unfortunately it’s not a very safe situation for patrons,” he said. “It’s being taken over and it’s frustrating,” he lamented.

Since then, Johnson said she met with Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s chief of staff who agreed Denver police would increase officer patrols in the area. City crime statistics show crime in and around Union Station has spiked during the pandemic.

This week, during afternoon hours, a stabbing occurred at the west end of Union Station although Johnson said it was not on Union Station property and did not involve paying RTD customers. One person was hospitalized and Denver police said a suspect was being sought. Johnson said TSA agents have been brought in to bolster the security presence along with the volunteer group, Guardian Angels.

She told RTD board members what has occurred at Union Station mirrors “societal issues.”

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The agency is looking at a number of recommendations to mitigate the crime and drug problems that have plagued the transit hub. Among them, making Union Station a “paid fare zone” so that only paying customers would be allowed around trains and buses. But Johnson said implementing that recommendation would involve fare gates, turnstiles and other infrastructure.

“We are assessing that,” said Johnson.

Asked what letter grade she would give Union Station for safety and security Johnson responded, “It’s probably at a D. I would say it’s an unwelcoming environment.”

Johnson said the issues at play at the transit center are not indigenous to Denver but are occurring around the country.

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Board member Shontel Lewis said, “We aren’t going to arrest our way out of this.”

Brian Maass