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Tag: RTD

TRANSIT NEWS January 2021

Covid Relief

Congress agreed in late December to provide Covid financial relief worth about 900 Billion dollars that includes money for Amtrak and Transit.  According to  Senator Warner’s office, the 45 billion for transportation would include 15 billion for mass transit, 1 billion for Amtrak and 8 billion for the bus/motorcoach industry.  RTD is currently waiting to see what portion will be distributed to it.

This is the news that RTD and our region have been waiting for.  Since the Pandemic started in February of 2020, transit agencies have been eagerly waiting for financial relief.  Most transit agencies depend on sales tax, local government contributions, and fares to maintain transportation in their region.  The first stimulus package enabled RTD to sustain employment and service in the spring.  RTD also used dollars to create a robust bus/train cleaning process that helps eliminate contamination and placed plexiglass in each bus to help protect drivers and passengers.  RTD is currently around 60% of last year’s production while ridership is down to 40%.  In December RTD started implementing cuts in employment and a reduction in salaries to its staff.

I’ve spoken to several RTD Directors and it is a consensus that operations in 2021 will remain the same until the sales tax forecast improves.  Funding from any stimulus package will be used to prop up RTD and may result in re-hiring some employees that have been recently released and may result in the return of some services and frequency of service in 2021.  However, if the stimulus payment is much larger, then RTD will adjust accordingly.

To rebound from 2020, changes in the transit climate will need a positive Sales Tax Forecast and the return of riders.  The success of RTD will primarily rely on the return of riders.  For our transit environment to return to some sense of normalcy riders can help by

  • getting vaccinated
  • taking current precautions by wearing protective gear such as face masks and washing hands frequently
  • working with our fellow riders by continuing to social distance from each other
  • return to normal travel and spending habits

Opportunities for RTD in 2021-

As bleak the year 2020 has been for transit there are some opportunities in 2021 for RTD  to help stabilize transit.  In 2020, an advisory committee was established by the State Legislature to review operating restrictions on RTD.  These restrictions were established when RTD was chartered by the legislature in 1969  The three restrictions that the legislature seemed most interested in modifying  are, farebox ratio, parking fees, and use of RTD properties.

Farebox ratio–  RTD is required by State Law to have a percentage of its budget come from farebox ratio.  The other major source of income is sales tax.  It is presumed that the legislature in 1969 wanted an additional contribution to transit services by those people using the service.  However, the sales tax is applied to everyone whether or not you use the service or not.

Current fare collections,

CRS 32-9-119.7(3)states: The district shall take whatever measures it deems necessary to ensure that the following percentages of its operating costs are funded by revenues collected, as follows: 

  1. (a) For the fiscal year 1990, twenty-seven and one-half percent; 
  2. (b) For the fiscal year 1991, twenty-eight and one-half percent; 
  3. (c) For the fiscal year 1992, twenty-nine and one-half percent; 
  4. (d) For the fiscal year 1993 and each fiscal year thereafter, thirty percent. 

If the legislature lifts this requirement as recommended by the RTD accountability committee,  RTD will have options to change the ratio or to eliminate the farebox altogether.  Unfortunately, a zero farebox is probably not possible at this time.  Unless RTD receives dollars to fill that 20% gap it will probably use the option to lower fares during emergencies as we experienced in 2020 from the pandemic.  The fact that the recovery from the pandemic will probably occur late this year RTD could have had the option of suspending or lower fare during this period of recovery.  Other influences that could eliminate a transit fare would be an increase in the sales tax percentage or major dollars from the federal government.  The new federal administration has promised more support for transit in the U.S.  If funding were provided from them as an essential service then perhaps long-term funding could help Colorado have fareless transit systems.  Most of our European friends enjoy low and in some regions no fares because their government considers transit essential and it provides a major portion of funding for their transit systems

One of the restrictions that we all need to acknowledge is that, unlike the federal government, State and local governments have to maintain a balanced budget.  It is great that the Federal government can create larger deficits during times of need.  This option has provided an opportunity to print more money and provide stimulus packages for its citizens.  By law our local governments are not allowed to spend money and just hope they meet their targets at the end of the year.  They cannot create budgets that have deficits.

If  this recommendation from the Advisory Committee is passed by the 2021 State Legislature,

The Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition will be working with Mile High Connects and other organizations in farebox reforms in 2021.  Note:  The State has postponed starting its 2021 Legislative session until February 16th due to the pandemic.

Parking–  Another restriction that was placed on RTD in 1969 was that transit users would have free access to parking.  Before the Pandemic, RTD was experiencing a drop in ridership.  One of the glaring observations was that most parking lots assigned to transit were not being fully used.  This causes two concerns.  Is the property an asset or an operational liability?  It is estimated that each parking spot is worth $12 thousand dollars (this number varies with location)  on the real estate market.  If RTD does not have the option to recover some revenue it would be best to guess that the property is a liability.  RTD has two options to work with if allowed by the State Legislature. One, charge a nominal fee for parking.   Though the use of parking is down, it is not reasonable to expect the property to sit idle without allowing the owner to recover some revenue from it.  However, RTD will have to be careful not to charge too much or it will be a disincentive for users to use the system. The second initiative that RTD can make is to identify parking areas that show no potential for further use and to sell those properties or work collaboratively with local developers to build transit-friendly housing.  ( see more in Properties)

Properties–  RTD needs more flexibility in the use of its properties.  Properties near transit have grown in value especially since the implementation of new rail lines around the region.  The lines provide better opportunities to travel within the district and people are starting to acknowledge the benefits of living near transit.  RTD may want to sell certain properties that have limited development.  This provides funding to the current budget but this type of sale does not have a long-term benefit to the agency.  Another use of properties are collaborations between RTD and developers.  This is an opportunity to create annual revenue by working with developers to create housing, commerce, and recreation on RTD properties.  

Summary:  These possible initiatives on their own cannot solve the financial problems that RTD is facing.  However, combine the three and there is potential to provide a 5-10 percent impact on RTD’s budget.  If you have an opportunity to attend hearings concerning these issues at the State Legislature we encourage you to do so.  Letting them know how important transit is to you will help these recommendations become a reality.  Information on how to attend meetings remotely are at https://leg.colorado.gov/

Electrification

One of the fascinations I have with working with on Transit, as an advocate, is that it is always evolving.  One of the changes we will see in the next few years is the electrification of transit systems.  Whether it is just electrification of transit fleets or the use of autonomous vehicles, CCDC will be at the table to ensure that the implementation of this technology is accessible to our community.

A few years ago CCDC was invited to see the pilot program for autonomous vehicles in Colorado.  We were able to identify many obstacles for our community and gave the manufacturers our concerns and advice on how to make these vehicles accessible.

In 2021, CCDC will be working with (TEEM) Towards Electrical Equitable Mobility 

Background: The current transportation system presents challenges for racial equity, mobility, and climate change goals. It is the largest source of air pollution in the United States, with environmental and health implications disproportionately experienced in low-income communities of color. For many, poor access to transportation is a barrier stemming from policies that have discriminated on the basis of race. Today transportation is the second-highest household expense for most people, and a person’s commute time is the most critical factor in their chances of escaping poverty. One solution to many of these challenges is innovative mobility programs that utilize electric mobility. The formation of partnerships between racial equity advocates and traditional environmental organizations will be vital to ensure that such programs are approved, funded, and implemented successfully. If mobility and electrification programs are designed to work for historically underserved communities, they will work better for all communities and will maximize the environmental and economic benefits of electrification. 

Purpose of the TEEM Community of Practice: We aim to establish a peer-to-peer community of advocates to share policy goals, learn together, build relationships, and in the process develop a sense of belonging and mutual commitment towards advancing racial equity, electric mobility, and climate change goals.

Though TEEM focuses on racial and environmental equity they realized that the disability community is also a key benefactor when transit is improved.  That is why we are participating along with 4 other states to share information about and for electrification of transit systems.  

CCDC will be performing outreach activities in 2021 to get feedback about transit equity and to provide findings that the five state collaborative discovers.  We look forward to our own Colorado community to participate in this process so that we continue to be at the table.

Jaime Lewis, CCDC Transit Advisor

Transit Updates

 

by Jaime Lewis - CCDC Transit Advocate and Advisor

July 9, 2020

  • Invest in America Act

  • RTD Reimagine

  • Rural Transportation

  • COVID- 19

  • Summary


1. Invest in America Act

State and County governments have struggled for two decades to fund repairs for roads and bridges.  Rising costs and dwindling gas tax revenues have left most of the roads and bridges in our state at near or below standards.

Congress is currently debating the Invest Act.  The Invest Act is a sub-portion of the larger act called the “Moving Forward Act” that will address housing, climate change, water, and land use.  Four highlights of the Invest Act are,

  • States would get more money to end traffic violence.  Thirty percent increase in road safety funding and sixty percent increase for bike lanes and sidewalks.  These percentages seem like a large increase but it must be noted that funding for these categories was small, to begin with.  It will be imperative to monitor and influence the way these funds will be spent.  Organizations like Mile High Connects, Denver Streets Partnership, Bicycle Colorado, Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, and citizens like you will be essential to ensure monies are spent properly.
  • Departments of Transportation would have to fix existing roads before building new ones.  This issue may not appear to be a primary issue for someone who does not own a vehicle.  However, inter-connectivity across older roads, i.e. sidewalks, bicycle paths will help eliminate communities from being separated.
  • Congestion pricing is a tool that governments will be looking at closely.  Charging drivers during peak traffic periods may become a benefit to transit riders.  Some of the restrictions on using congestion pricing are that the jurisdiction cannot charge transit vehicles.  Roads designated for congestion pricing would also have to have a low-income alternative for the same route, i.e. bus, train.
  • The act will provide 8.3 billion dollars to lower the carbon footprint.  One of the efforts is to expand the use of E-Vehicles by building more infrastructure to support it.  Debates have already started whether this is a good investment.  Most planners who have been trying to lower the use of single-occupancy vehicles are against filling up our roads with E-vehicles.  In the advent that the population of E-vehicles increases our community must ensure that the product is accessible.

2. REIMAGINE

Two years ago, Dave Genova, former CEO of RTD had a vision.  He wanted to reimagine RTD.  In other words, what would people expect of RTD in 2050?

  • Meetings started shortly after his announcement.  There were an enthusiasm and large participation for the first two meetings.  Unfortunately, the pandemic, sliding economy, and civil unrest redirected the group to focus on service cuts to insure that RTD could survive financially.  The group is assisting RTD in dealing with financial realities, safety concerns, and unrealistic expectations that were placed on the organization two decades ago (trains, trains, trains).
  • No doubt, there will be service reductions for the district.  There will be an emphasis on maintaining and improving the remainder of the district after cuts to service.
  • One of the structures we are trying to maintain is the Access-a-Ride.  Under current policy RTD only provides service ¾ mile from fixed routes.  If routes are to be eliminated or shortened we must insist that AAR remain active in those areas.

3. RURAL TRANSPORTATION

The average length of a car trip is 2-4 miles.  Smaller communities provide little to no transportation for our elderly, disabled, and the general public.  A trip less than 4 miles could mean access to groceries, healthcare, recreation, and social interaction.

  • Rural communities must recognize the importance of keeping their citizens mobile.  Investing in local transportation helps maintain a healthy community and economy.  When local dollars are used to support transportation, those dollars stay in the community.
  • If you identify a small start-up carrier or a struggling transit system in your area start campaigning for local dollars to be invested into them.

4. COVID-19

  • Wear the damn mask!

That’s all I got to say about that.

5. Summary:

CCDC provides this information so you are informed of transit information.  We hope some of you will take this knowledge and use it to share with your local representatives.

  • Attend your local meetings if possible.
    • This includes City Council Meetings or County Commissioner meetings.
    • These government bodies are required to have virtual meetings so that you can participate.
  • Start a conversation.
    • You will be surprised how many elected officials are waiting for good input from you.

CCDC wants to insure that you have your chance to provide input on RTD Service Changes

Public meetings have been scheduled between February 19 and March 5 for you to learn more about and weigh in on proposed RTD service changes.

Information, Dates, and Locations are available at https://www.rtd-denver.com/service-changes/may-2020.

You can also provide your input by emailing service.changes@rtd-denver.com or faxing comments to 303-299-2227 no later than March 5, 2020. Continue reading “CCDC wants to insure that you have your chance to provide input on RTD Service Changes”

State Bill To Add RTD Board Members To Increase Oversight

DENVER (CBS4) – A transit system plagued with issues has caught the attention of state lawmakers. An ongoing driver shortage and hundreds of delayed and canceled routes within RTD prompted the introduction of a bill that would change how the agency operates.

Continue reading this article and watch the video at https://denver.cbslocal.com/2020/01/29/rtd-board-members-disabilities/ By Karen Morfitt,

 


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Information received from CCDC’s employees or volunteers, or from this site, should NOT be considered a substitute for the advice of a lawyer. www.ccdconline.org DOES NOT provide any legal advice, and you should consult with your own lawyer for legal advice. This website is a general service that provides information over the internet. The information contained on this site is general information and should not be construed as legal advice to be applied to any specific factual situation.

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