Regional Transportation District passed sweeping bus and light-rail fare changes, yesterday, including a bus-fare hike from $2.25 to $2.60 that some community members say would make it impossible for them to get to work, school and doctor’s appointments.
With the fare increase, RTD will lose 2 percent of its riders – about 2 million riders per year, according to staff who researched and designed the proposal. However, at the Tuesday Board Meeting, director Bill James said raising fares was “the only choice we really have” to meet revenue targets.
Over 45 community members spoke against the increase. Many of these people come from poor, working class communities, deal with disability, experience homelessness and/or do not speak English.
Some worried that their bus lines would get cut when riders couldn’t afford the new bus fares. When ridership goes down on a route, RTD cannot justify continuing to operate it.
That is exactly what happened to Route 4, that served the Westwood neighborhood, over a year ago.
After the bus line was shut down, community activist Maricruz Herrera led a major door-to-door campaign to inform and organize people in her neighborhood to flood RTD offices and ask the company to reinstate the bus line.
Eventually, she won the fight. And she was pleased.
Yesterday, she showed up to the meeting, somber, fearing RTD would once again cut her line if fares were raised and fewer passengers took the No. 4.
“My route is a lifeline to work, medical care and education for many,” she said. “Your actions are dramatically affecting the Hispanic community where I live.”
Other residents and community advocates stressed that the poor and disabled will be most affected by the fare hike.
As the board began to vote for the proposal, one activist from the economic justice organization 9to5 Colorado stood and shouted, “You are contributing to poverty issues in Denver… This is a direct violation of the public that sits here before you!”
She and others began to sing a slow song:
We need a way to get
We need a way to get
Here to there
From here to there.
Board Vice-Chair Tom Tobiasson ordered security to remove the activists.
All but one of the 11 board members voted yes on the proposal. Paul Solano said it was “in direct conflict with the working people,” and that he could not vote for it.
“There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” said board member Kent Bagley.
Residents didn’t understand why fares are increasing if services are not being improved. Advocates said that the hike is not justified since more than 80 percent of RTD’s revenues is paid for by state sales tax and federal grants.
People were concerned that slow bus schedules would prevent riders from reaching destinations on time, resulting in lost wages, missed medical appointments and missed educational opportunities.
Others were concerned that the cash system on the bus wasn’t efficient. Buses and drivers aren’t equipped to give change back to customers, causing them to overpay.
Many residents explained that with the fare hike, it will be cheaper, overall, to have a car than to ride the bus.
“It’s humiliating, and it’s a class issue,” said a former nurse who now lives in transitional housing.
Some board members sympathized with the public explaining that they too had struggles in life, but had found ways around them.
“I rode the bus system as a kid, and I was poor,” said Jeff Walker, one of the two African American RTD board members. “But we got by with what we had. I believe people will be able to scrounge up what they have [to keep on riding the bus],” he said.
Board member Claudia Folska, who is legally blind, said she identified with the struggles of the disabled community. But she still voted for the increase.
“I know the Denver community is struggling with a lot of problems right now,” Folska said, “but RTD can’t be the solution to all of them.”