Years of declining ridership flummoxed leaders of metro Denver’s transit system, just as a staffing crisis routinely left buses and trains without operators — while financial pressures kept the agency from fulfilling key promises.
That was before the coronavirus pandemic broadsided the Regional Transportation District.
Ridership plunged, bottoming out at 30% of normal in spring 2020. And even as riders have slowly returned, recovery has been uneven. Buses attracted 56% as many riders in November as in the same month in 2019, before the pandemic, according to a Denver Post analysis of RTD ridership data.
Train service, representing billions of dollars of investment, is not recovering as quickly. While less commuter-heavy trains are performing relatively well, six of eight major train corridors that were open in late 2019 fell short of the bus recovery rate by at least 15%. Those low-performers ranged from the B-Line, at 37% of 2019 ridership, to the R-Line, at nearly 48%.
hose numbers leave RTD with difficult questions and no easy answers. How does the agency best serve a population that may never take trains so regularly to commute between the suburbs and downtown, while maintaining that expensive infrastructure? How does it serve a sizable corps of riders, often low-income service workers who depend heavily on its buses, as it struggles for enough staff to operate even its pandemic-reduced schedule? RTD initially trimmed service to roughly 60% of prior levels but has restored a small share of those cuts.