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Report Makes Case for Fairer RTD Fares

A new report shows RTD's fare structure prioritizes higher-income riders over the poor and people dependent on transit. (RTD)
A new report shows RTD's fare structure prioritizes higher-income riders over the poor and people dependent on transit. (RTD)
April 27, 2016

DENVER - The Regional Transportation District may be basking in the glow of its successful launch of the A Train to Denver International Airport, but a new report by the Colorado Fiscal Institute takes the agency to task for failing to fulfill its mandate to serve the poor and people dependent on transit.

Thamanna Vasan, an economic policy analyst for the institute, said 2016's fare reductions mostly have benefitted higher-income regional users while rate hikes have fallen on the backs of low-income local bus riders.

"The new fare structure just worsened a lot of the inequities that were already present in the system," she said. "The majority of the increases that happened in fares were experienced by those who were of the lowest income and who depend on RTD services the most."

Vasan noted that RTD's program to get reduced passes to low-income riders makes up less than one-fifth of all rides, and added that poor people can't afford to take advantage of discounts offered through bulk ticket sales.

RTD, responding to the study in the Denver Post, argued that its new fare structure is more equitable for all families.

Vasan said it doesn't have to be a choice between luring affluent drivers out of their cars and making sure poor passengers can get to a doctor's appointment. She said RTD can and should do both, and pointed to a successful program at work in Seattle where riders who earn less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level -- slightly more than $36,000 a year for a family of four -- get a 50 percent discount off regular fares.

"If we make buses and trains more affordable for these individuals, it would actually be better for our district as a whole," she said, "because we have more people who can get to work, fewer cars on the road, especially fewer older cars that are worse for the environment."

Until real steps are taken by RTD to make its fares more fair, Vasan said, low-income riders will continue to be left at the bus stop and will pay even more for it in 2016.

The report is online at coloradofiscal.org.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO