Survey: RTD among most expensive public transit systems in the country

DENVER -- If you take RTD in Denver or Boulder, you may not know it, but you’re paying slightly more for public transportation than other cities in the country.

A recent survey by ValuePenguin.com placed Denver 10th among the least affordable midsized cities for public transit. According to ValuePenguin, Denver transit users spend 4.4 percent of their income on bus and rail tickets. That is slightly above the national average of 3.2 percent.

Paul Reynolds, one of the authors of the survey, said they compared the monthly cost of a transit pass, which is $99 in Denver, to the average monthly income of the typical transit user to come to the 4.4 percent figure.

The most affordable cities in the country to ride public transit are Bremerton, Washington; Bridgeport, Connecticut; and Trenton, New Jersey. Transit users in those cities spend less than 1.5 percent of their income on public transportation.

Reynolds notes that the cities that fared well in the survey tend to have a higher average income. The average income of Denver and Boulder transit users range from $27,000 to $30,000.

“If you’re paying $100 for a monthly pass, that’s a bigger bite of those transit users,” said Reynolds.

The survey didn’t take into account discounted fares, which RTD says makes up a large portion of its riders. Half-off monthly passes are available to seniors, individuals with disabilities, Medicare recipients, elementary, middle and high school students ages 6-19. 

Nate Currey, a spokesperson for RTD, says his agency gives away more than $6 million in transit each year. Plus, there are more than 300 non-profits in the region that help commuters get discounted fares, Currey said.

Additionally, Currey said RTD operates one of the largest transit systems in the country. And with a large footprint comes a larger operating cost, which a portion of that is pushed onto the rider. However, RTD gets most of its money from taxes and grants, only a third comes from fares.

Currey points out that Los Angeles has four times the population of Denver, yet RTD's service area is five times larger than the transit operation that serves LA. Commuters in the City of Angels spend 8.69 percent of their income on transit, according to the survey.

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