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On The Issues2018-03-29T10:10:57-07:00

RTD’s Future: Where Do We Go From Here?

Lynn smilingRTD is a huge district with lots of moving parts – both figuratively and literally – so there are many issues to which a Board member must give great attention. Here are a few of my highest priority concerns in 2018.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

The FasTracks ballot measure of 2004 was successful largely because Boulder County supported it in large numbers. The RTD board consists of 15 people representing different districts with differing interests.  I will work with other directors to establish the relationships and analysis needed to fully achieve the promise of FasTracks. So far, RTD has successfully increased ridership with bus rapid transit (which was part of the original FasTracks plan) and express lanes on US 36.  More needs to be done.

RTD planned Northwest Rail commuter rail along the existing Burlington Northern tracks. We need to update earlier studies to identify possible paths forward for the commuter rail. In 2014, all the communities and governments on the Northwest Corridor unanimously adopted the findings of the Northwest Area Mobility Study (NAMS).  The NAMS found that BRT along 119, 287 and SH 7 would carry 20,000 people per day, mostly new transit trips.  5,000 trips are projected to use BRT on SH 119. Another 8000 or so are projected to use Hwy 7 if fully built out with a separate lane or shoulders for buses. These projects should be high priority for RTD.

PASSES

I strongly support the recommendations of RTD’s Pass Program Working Group.  These include retaining the EcoPass, the Neighborhood EcoPass, and the university pass, and creating or expanding a low-income pass program, which would give a 40-50% discount on fares for those whose incomes are at or below 185% of the federal poverty level, and the youth pass (giving a 70% discount for youth aged 19 and under). This should serve two purposes: 1) help RTD grow ridership, serving the mission of getting more people out of single-occupancy vehicles, and 2) improve RTD’s fiscal balance so it can maintain or improve its service capacity.

FUTURE OF TRANSIT

Transportation is now the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, and alternative transportation – including transit – has to be part of the solution to this environmental challenge. And, new technologies are becoming more cost effective.  The transportation world is changing, raising issues of vehicle ownership, electrification, ride-sourcing technologies and options, and how transit fits in this new world.

When it comes to vehicle electrification, LA Metro is leading the way. We also need to move away from diesel buses, to electric buses, here in Colorado.  Volkswagen settlement money will be available to pay the incremental cost of purchasing electric buses (the difference between a diesel bus at about $450,000 and an electric bus at $750,000). Those buses can start to return cash flow right away in fuel and maintenance cost savings.

Electric bus

An electric bus charging in Mountain View, California. No diesel fumes? Yes, please! (Photo by Grendelkahn)

Other types of tech advances are already available in the transit world to the tech-savvy user, including: real-time information for arrivals and departures, ticketing and apps for smart phones, first/last mile solutions through TNCs or bike sharing, and transportation demand management to keep everything  running on time through congestion pricing or managed lanes.

RTD is making progress on these fronts, and I would like to see them expanded to dedicate planning and pilot projects regarding what will be the future of transportation – and how transit fits with other technologies and options becoming available.

FINANCES

After years of running a business and serving on numerous boards, I always focus on financials.  RTD is struggling right now, due in part to the ravages of the recent recession, increasing expenses, and revenues not yet rebounding to the levels RTD needs. I would look at creative ways to raise funds for the agency such as looking at possible lease or sale of RTD’s many real estate properties. RTD also needs to continue working toward getting grants, securing favorable loans, refinancing existing loans at favorable rates, and considering innovative partnerships to continue transit progress. Wise fiscal management might be the difference between expanding or cutting services.