Transportation

RTD’s 50-year history builds path to future

CEO says transit district considering new ways to get people where they need to go

Clarke Reader
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 7/22/19

A lot can happen in 50 years, and that is definitely the case in the world of transit. In the Denver area, the Regional Transpiration District — which launched in 1969 — has seen its share of new …

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Transportation

RTD’s 50-year history builds path to future

CEO says transit district considering new ways to get people where they need to go

Posted

A lot can happen in 50 years, and that is definitely the case in the world of transit. In the Denver area, the Regional Transpiration District — which launched in 1969 — has seen its share of new technologies, groundbreaking ideas, unrealized dreams and work still to be done.

But a half-century of offering mass transit options to the metro area is no small feat — one RTD is celebrating all through this year.

We connected with Dave Genova, general manager and CEO of RTD, to discuss RTD’s past, its current achievements and its future challenges.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Tell me about the 50th year of RTD — how is RTD marking the occasion?

We started in February by rolling out a life-size 50th-anniversary logo event at Denver Union Station. We also have updated all RTD templates to reflect the 50-year logo. Additionally, RTD celebrated on its actual anniversary on July 1 by holding rider appreciation events in each of the transit agency’s 15 districts to thank the public for riding with us over the past five decades. RTD officially celebrated its 50th anniversary on Friday, July 12, with a party on Wynkoop Plaza in front of Union Station. The event featured RTD information, food trucks, music, a program with speakers and other family-friendly activities. And there will be more to come as the year continues.

How has transit changed in Denver since RTD first started?

When RTD first started, there were several different transit agencies operating in the Denver-Boulder area. On Sept. 7, 1973, voters in what was then the seven-county district authorized RTD to issue $425 million in revenue bonds backed by a half-percent sales tax. With that money, RTD began buying up the aging municipal bus systems that served Denver and its suburbs, such as Denver Metro Transit, Evergreen Transit, Northglenn Suburban and the Longmont Mini. In 1994, RTD opened its first light rail line; in 2016 it opened its first bus rapid transit line and commuter rail line. This year, we launched the 61AV, an autonomous vehicle pilot program and FlexRide, an on-demand shared bus service where passengers have the ability to book a trip online. RTD has transformed transportation for the Denver metro region.

What, if any, were some predicted transportation changes that never came about?

RTD reviewed a variety of transportation options and one that comes to mind is Personal Rapid Transit, which was similar to the then-popular attraction at Disneyland. In fact, consultants to RTD suggested Denver could be a test ground for Personal Rapid Transit. A 100-mile system of mostly elevated, “fixed guideways” was sketched in which driverless vehicles holding a maximum of 12 people would deliver passengers all around the metro area. Early dreams included an underground subway segment downtown.

What would you say the focus of RTD should be for the next 50 years?

RTD is embarking on the process of reimagining RTD through our Transportation Transformation work which will kick off in July. RTD strives to continue to keep its finger on the pulse of the citizens in the Denver metro area, offering new services to better meet the needs of our tech-savvy and rapidly growing population. We will be developing the mobility plan for the future of the Denver metro region.

The Denver metro area has obviously seen some massive growth in recent years. Has ridership grown at a similar rate?

We have been experiencing increased ridership on commuter rail, bus rapid transit, and so far this year on our fixed route bus network. Nationally, ridership has declined across the country mainly on bus services. There are a variety of reasons: more people are working from home and they are using transit less and using their cars more and automobile access is better than ever before. RTD will be spending the next two years looking at all of the services we provide and how we can improve them through our Transportation Transformation initiative. That will help us determine what we can do to draw more people back to our services.

What are some big changes happening to popular routes as population changes and grows?

We assess all our services three times a year to ensure that we are providing the most efficient service that meets the needs of the community.

One of our most popular bus routes, the 15/15L, which has about 24,000 boardings a day, is getting a makeover right now. Updates include enhanced shelters with lighting and security cameras, queue bypass lanes, transit signal priority and bus bulbs that will improve traffic flow on East Colfax. Also, we recently completed a bus rapid transit study to see what transit corridors might be viable options for that service in the future.

This year we are also embarking on a comprehensive analysis of our system, which will allow us to take a big-picture look at all our service and how we can make improvements to the system to accommodate the changing needs of the region. There will be an extensive community engagement process as part of the analysis which will be important in determining how we move forward.

Editor’s note: For more information on the Colfax transit update, read our article at https://lifeoncaphill.com/stories/revising-colfaxs-blueprint,270843.

In what ways is RTD hoping to improve over the next 50 years?

RTD hopes to continue collaborating with stakeholders, communities, businesses and regional leaders to innovate and integrate our services and continue to adapt to what our riders and non-riders desire.

What are you most excited about when it comes to the future of transportation in the metro area?

I’m excited about all the new technology that is making it easier for people to use our services. We have our partnership with Uber that allows passengers to purchase tickets in the Uber app; we also have a partnership with Lyft where folks can see our services in their app; we have our transit watch app that allows people to report any suspicious or unsafe activities seamlessly and easily. We are also excited about our 61AV route at 61st and Pena Station along the University of Colorado A Line, exploring autonomous vehicles; as well as our FlexRide microtransit service — an on-demand service where people can connect their first and last mile from select transit stations.

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