In 2024, community members who use public transit in the metro area may get to ride with a simpler, more equitable and affordable fare system.
After a year of conducting a fare study and equity analysis, the Regional Transportation District, known as RTD, is recommending a new fare structure and changes to discount and pass programs.
At Littleton Downtown Station on May 9, RTD representatives educated morning commuters on the proposed changes.
“When we started out … we had three goals, which (were) equity, affordability and simplicity,” said Bill Sirois, senior manager of transit-oriented communities in the planning department at RTD. “So that's kind of been the theme throughout.”
New fare structure
Sirois said the district has received a lot of feedback from people who said riding RTD is expensive and difficult to understand.
To improve and simplify the fare structure, RTD is proposing to combine “regional” and “local” fares into one rate called “standard.”
As the structure exists now, a person pays a regional fare if they travel through more than two fare zones. The RTD area has three roughly concentric circle “zones,” starting with Zone A in downtown Denver, reaching out to Zone C at the farther stations within the district, such as Jefferson CO Government-Golden Station and both Littleton stations. A regional fare costs $5.25 for a 3-hour pass and $10.50 for a day pass.
Current local fares, which cover transportation in one or two zones, are $3.00 for a 3-hour pass and $6.00 for a day pass.
Under the proposed fare structure, zones would be eliminated. A passenger traveling any distance would pay $2.75 for a 3-hour pass and $5.50 for a day pass, almost cutting fares in half for regional travelers and lowering the price a by less than a dollar for local travelers.
The only exception to this standard rate would be travel to or from Denver International Airport, which would decrease from $10.50 to $10.00.
“When we did surveys, we heard from the business traveler and the occasional traveler, and it's like ‘Hey, 10 bucks -- that’s fair,’” Sirois said.
Airport employees, on the other hand, said they wanted to see cheaper fares for traveling to and from the airport since they do it so frequently.
“So… we lowered the monthly fare to the airport from $200 to $88,” Sirois said.
Under the proposed fare structure, all monthly passes would be $88, going down from the current local pass at $114 and the current regional/airport pass at $200.
The proposed plan also includes simplified and decreased fares for those who use RTD’s discount fare program, including adults ages 65 and over, individuals with disabilities, Medicare recipients and income-eligible customers.
During the systemwide fare study and equity analysis, some community members asked RTD why they were not proposing to reduce fares more significantly or eliminate them altogether.
RTD’s fare study website says they are not reducing fares more than proposed because customers expressed “a preference for maintaining current service levels more than reductions in price.” It says their teams conducted extensive fare modeling to create a recommended structure that lowered fares and maintained existing service levels and financial sustainability.
To increase equity and affordability, RTD is also recommending a one-year Zero Fare for Youth pilot program that will offer no-cost transit for youth ages 19 and under.
“That's probably one cohort or group that it makes sense to consider a zero fare option, because … most of them can’t afford (current fares),” said Brian Welch, acting assistant general manager of the planning department at RTD.
In addition, the recommended plan would expand the LiVE Income-Based Fare Discount Program. It proposes to remove the requirement to reside within RTD boundaries and increase the qualifying income threshold from 185% to 250% of the federal poverty guidelines.
At the current level, a family of four with a household income of $55,500 or less would be eligible for the LiVE program discount, according to RTD’s fare study website. With the program expansion, a family of four could make a household income of $75,000 or less and qualify for the discount.
Sirois and Welch said they hope the new changes, if passed, make the RTD system more affordable, equitable and simple and will increase ridership.
“We certainly hope that if people view our system as more affordable and simpler, they'll ride it more,” Welch said.
The RTD recommendation is available for public comment through May 22 at https://www.farefeedback.rtd-denver.com/get-involved and will be voted on by the RTD Board of Directors in July. If approved, the changes would go into effect in 2024.