Transit In Denver, Colorado
Transit in Denver is currently operated by the Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD). In July 2012, RTD operated 816 buses and 104 light rail vehicles in maximum service covering an area of 2,326 square miles with a population of 2.6 million (although the vast majority of RTD service occurs in the Denver metropolitan area with a population of about 2 million covering 499 square miles).
Five light rail routes serving two corridors are operated, serving areas from the far southeastern and south central suburbs of Denver to the central business district. Ninety-four local and limited routes are offered - most on a strict grid system - which serve in addition to the Denver metropolitan area Boulder and Longmont, cities to the northwest and north respectively. Routes are numbered according to the street number they represent (so Colfax, Route 15, is 1500 north), making it easy to symbolize where they operate in relation to downtown Denver. In addition to the local and limited routes, RTD offers sixteen express routes, thirty regional routes (which operate between Denver and surrounding cities in the eight-county service area), five regional routes serving the airport, and the free 16th Street mall ride (described below).
In order to avoid cluttering the streets of downtown Denver with excessive numbers of buses, RTD channels all regional and express bus routes into two stations - Market Street Station at the west end of downtown (which will eventually be relocated to Union Station) and Civic Center Station at the east end of downtown near the state capitol. Passengers accessing destinations in between these stations take the mall ride, which uses unique buses to offer free service along transit-only 16th Street. In contrast to other transit-only malls, on a summer weekend many pedestrians can be seen traversing the street, either hanging out or patronizing any number of kiosks and stores along the route.
Disappointingly, Denver's light rail routes do not, with the exception of in the downtown area, serve any trip generators. Instead, perhaps in an effort to save money, they are adjacent to either existing railroad rights of way or next to a freeway. Indeed, according to the National Transit Database , they average only 47.4 passengers per hour, which is far less than what many bus routes in cities such as Los Angeles carry - and the light rail passengers are carried in two and three car trains versus one bus. On a recent Sunday travel on the system I noted that at no time were there more than ten people on a train car, and many times there were fewer than five. One would hope that if future service reductions became necessary that they would come from the light rail network instead of the bus network.
Even more disappointing is the fact that, despite the fact that I noticed no high-level stations anywhere, the light rail rolling stock was high floor. High floor vehicles make it difficult for the elderly and disabled to board - a fact that has resulted in virtually no high floor buses being sold to transit agencies in the United States anymore.
RTD has three different fare types : local / limited, express, and regional which apply to buses operating in the above categories. For light rail, the fare is determined by how much distance is traveled and is equal to one of the bus categories. While transfers are free, RTD currently offers no day pass, making use of the system expensive for tourists.
Note, the fares described below are full-fare; discounted fares, which apply to seniors, the disabled, and students 19 years of age or younger. The fares apply to local/limited, express, and regional respectively.
- Cash - $2.25, 4.00, 5.00
- 10 Ride book - $20, 36, 45
- Monthly Pass - $79, 140, 176
- ValuPass (annual) - $869, 1540, 1936
Like every other transit system in the United States, RTD relies heavily on government subsidies . Currently, fares cover 23% of operating costs, with the other money coming from local sales taxes (57%), federal assistance (17%), and other funds (advertising, etc.) (3%). For capital costs, local sales taxes cover 77% while federal assistance makes up the remaining 23%. Note that there is, unusually, no state support for RTD.
In November 2004, area voters approved a sales tax increase in order to fund what is known as the FasTracks program. The FasTracks program promises to build 119 miles of light rail, diesel commuter rail, electric commuter rail, and bus rapid transit radiating out from downtown Denver in all directions - and all between 2013 and 2016. The program, which was originally estimated to cost $4.7 billion, has since increased to $6.5 billion; the increase, in conjunction with the recession-induced reduction in sales tax receipts, has put the 2016 completion date in jeopardy. Curiously, although there is a commuter rail project in FasTracks which will connect downtown with the airport to the northeast, there is no rapid transit project that will serve the east Colfax corridor - despite the fact that ridership on RTD's bus routes 15 East Colfax and 15L East Colfax limited is much higher than any other route they operate.
Ease of getting around Denver without a car: 6/10 . While there are a large number of bus routes, the vast majority of them do not operate more frequently than every thirty minutes - including many bus routes in the inner city. While this low level of service is partially ameliorated by frequent usage of timed transfers, it does make it difficult to lead a car-free life even in downtown Denver. In addition the light rail lines run either next to railway tracks or expressways, making it difficult to access the stations on foot. On the plus side, virtually all of the metropolitan area of Denver is covered by bus routes, making for better exurban coverage than what is found in Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, and other places.