Prioritize Core Service
FAIR FARE ADJUSTMENTS
In 2019, the RTD Board approved a fare increase using some of the recommendations made by a working group. Doing so avoided a budget shortfall and gave RTD the ignominious distinction of having the highest fares for a major city (not long before it would make service cuts). RTD’s Strategic Budget calls for the evaluation of another round of fare increases in 2022. We need to be thoughtful about this process for two reasons.
First, riders are shouldering an undue burden for the service provided. From 2009 to 2019, the base fare for RTD riders increased by 40 to 50%. This is a higher percent increase than riders in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Portland saw (it was matched in San Francisco). During that same period, the average wage for Denver residents, when adjusted for inflation, increased by 30% (based on data from Federl Reserve Bank of St. Louis). A report by the Colorado Center on Law & Policy further noted that top earners have experienced a sharper increase in wages than median or low earners. Continuing to raise fares for riders is not equitable, especially given the current economic realities created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Therefore, we need to be thoughtful about fare adjustments through 2026:
freeze the MyRide fare, paper pass booklet price, discounts for qualifying riders, and monthly pass rates
Introduce a weekly-unlimited pass that is a fraction of the monthly pass rate
reduce the digital fare paid on the RTD, Transit, and Uber mobile apps to match the MyRide/paper pass booklet rate (maintains consistency and will help buses move faster)
consider raising the local and regional cash fares by 10%
revaluate the pricing of employer-provided EcoPass and FlexPass
Second, another fare increase would be counterproductive to RTD’s goals. A study by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute evaluated the effects of various changes on ridership. They determined that each 10% increase in fares results in a 2% to 5% decline in the short-term (two years or less) and 6% to 9% decline in the long-term (more than five years), and that this effect was especially strong for bus ridership. It has a proven unfortunately true for RTD. From 2008 to 2018, it experienced a 13% decline in bus ridership.
FREQUENT, ONE-SEAT RIDES
In October 2019, an advisory committee and group of transit experts began the Reimagine RTD process, which will result in a comprehensive redesign of the transit network. Their suggestions, along with input from citizens, will develop a system optimization plan that will be presented to the Board of Directors. That body will be tasked with determining “the best and most feasible course of action” for RTD in 2021.
We should pursue a bold plan that produces optimal service quality. Riders and prospective riders deserve a network that does not making transit a challenging guessing game. Rather, it should be an option that is as convenient as a single-occupancy vehicle.
The redesign should lead to a network of core transit arriving in 15-minute-or-fewer increments (and less than 10 minutes on the most popular routes), allowing for rides throughout the entire day and week (not just conventional commuting hours), and maximizing the number of one-seat rides.
It is time to envision and implement a transit network for the future.
As a regional provider of transit service, RTD has a responsibility to move people throughout a large geographic area. Its attempt to provide that coverage and address the First-Mile Last-Mile hurdle led to the entity doubling down and rebranding its Call-N-Ride service as FlexRide across 21 service areas. A breakdown of how FlexRide compares to other RTD services (data from 2019) can be found to the left.
We should seek to restructure FlexRide because it presently costs too much and delivers too little. First, a fixed-route circulator should be instituted where there is demand at multiple points-of-interest in the service area; the best performing services (Golden, N Inverness, and Meridian) currently operate in this fashion. Second, service areas where there is low interest should be combined, and FlexRide should be retooled as on-demand connection to and from transit, not merely between points-of-interest. Finally, where these strategies do not work, we can partner with rideshare companies who do it more efficiently.
Total boardings: 454,183
Service hours: 129,463
Boardings Per Hour: 3.51
Fare revenue: $528,435
Operating Cost: $10,792,108
Subsidy per boarding: $22.60