Is the Fare Change Fair?

By David Gordon, VOICE vendor

To make his way across Denver, David Gordon has often relied on bus transfers and the kindness of others. He worries that RTD’s fare changes will make it even harder for Denver’s poor to help each other afford public transportation.

RTD fare increases will have a severe impact on the most vulnerable group of people in Denver—the poor.

Overall, I like the direction RTD is moving in with the expansion: North Metro Rail Line, Gold Line, as well as Denver International Airport (DIA) rail, and the extension into Lone Tree & Highlands Ranch. Having used public transportation in two other cities with similar populations, it is my opinion that RTD Denver has a superior public transportation system.

In addition to a fare increase and new fare structure, RTD is eliminating transfers and replacing them with a day pass. Additionally, RTD is consolidating Light Rail fare zones and SkyRide services to one airport fare. According to RTD, riders in the past have expressed confusion with the light rail zone fares, as well as conflicts and disputes from riders using transfers. RTD’s goal is to make it simple.

I rely on public transportation. I am not sold on the idea that these changes would simplify the system as a whole. I do think that for potential new riders traveling from outer zones, this system will be simpler. However, I strongly believe these changes will most definitely impact the lives of the working poor.

There was a time when I was living at a weekly motel. After paying my rent, I had to choose between food or bus transportation for the next day. Without bus transfers, I would only be able to take transportation one way and walk the rest of the way. For a lot of the working poor, buying a monthly pass is not an option. It’s unlikely some people will have that much cash at one time. 

According to RTD and its financial models, lowering light rail fare zones will increase its ridership from riders in places such as Littleton and Aurora. I do not understand this concept proposed by RTD. Will this really change ridership? 

RTD believes that these fare changes will allow them to meet revenue goals, but how many potential riders that do not currently depend on public transportation will make up this loss of revenue? 

RTD believes the working poor will continue to ride, due to fact that we have no other options. And for the poor, there are no other options.

According to RTD, the new day pass will allow a rider to ride the bus all day for the price of a round-trip fare, making up for the elimination of transfers. I understand this concept. But what if a rider needed only one bus, and that rider accidentally got on the wrong bus? I am an experienced rider and I’ve gotten on the wrong bus. 

RTD says transfers cause conflicts and disputes. It is my opinion that the “conflicts” with transfers have to do with the poor—specifically the practice of poor people sharing transfers with each other. There are times when the poor will share transfers, helping others that have no other transportation option. Back when I resided at that motel I mentioned earlier, there were times I did not have bus fare to get to work the next day. One thing that I would do is find a transfer that someone else didn’t need and use it to get to work. Is this practice fair to RTD? Maybe not. But desperate times require desperate measures.

Transfers are a tool that help the poor get to many places. They help save the wear and tear on the body that comes from walking. By eliminating transfers, RTD is actually doubling transportation costs for some of the city’s poorest citizens. 

Will the switch to day passes kill off some of the sharing and support in the poor and homeless communities? Will people share day passes? Or will they want to keep them for themselves? Will the homeless ride the bus and rail all night, wanting to maximize their day passes and frightening potential new riders?

I think about how hard it is to build a shelter because nobody wants the homeless in their backyard. Are new riders going to feel the same way with the homeless traveling out of the metro area to their backyard? Are new riders going to feel safe? And if not, how will revenue be made up? ■