RTD considers affordable fares for kids, low income riders

DENVER -- Denver is changing and to better meet the needs of a growing city, transportation must change too.

"As those urban centers change we're seeing changes in our ridership, " RTD's transit equity manager Michael Washington said. "We definitely want to increase ridership and help mitigate congestion."

Washington has spent the last year leading a diverse work group on a collaborative effort to overhaul RTD's fare pass options. The 28-member work group has now identified two key areas for changes.  

"A low-income program as well as a youth program," Washington said.

Here are the things to know about the proposed changes:

  • The low-income program would offer a 40-percent discount, but only to riders with incomes at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty levels.
  • Youth passes would reduce rates for teenage riders, aged 13 to 19, by 70 percent for residents.
  • Kids under 12 would ride free as long as they are with a fare-paying rider.

But like anything, these changes come at a cost.

"We're not really able to offer many other discounts if we're going to administer a low-income program," explained Washington.

"The more diversified of a transportation system you have, the better off you're going to be going forward," urban planning expert at the University of Denver, Andrew Goetz, said.

Goetz said he sees accessible fares for low-income riders as a crucial, and necessary step forward.

"These are the most transit dependent people in society. These are people who, many whom, don't have an option in terms of driving," Goetz said. "A price that we as a community have to pay, but it's really essential that low income populations do have access to our transit networks."

RTD's work group estimates that to pay for the low-income and youth discounts regular fares would need to increase.

Under the proposed plan, local fares would go up 40 cents to $3.00, regional tickets climb 75 cents to $5.25 and airport fares would increase to $10.50 each way.

"RTD and no transit agency is charging fares for fun. We are charging fares to cover the cost to provide the service that the region demands," Washington said.

RTD stressed the fare hikes and proposed changes are far from a done deal.

RTD's board will ultimately decide, and Washington said the plan could change based on their input and feedback from the public.

The work group presented the recommendations to a board committee on Tuesday night, and then it will go to a study session before being heard by the full board.

RTD also said there will be several public hearings, and the earliest fare changes could take effect is 2019.

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