The Regional Transportation District will gain new flexibility to reduce its fares, contract out service and charge for use of its Park-n-Ride lots under a bill signed into law Monday by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.
It will be up to metro Denver’s transit system to make those decisions, but House Bill 1186 removes several restrictions in state law that had limited RTD’s options. Among them was a longtime mandate that its farebox ratio — the proportion of the agency’s revenue that comes from fares — be 30 percent or higher.
New CEO and general manager Debra Johnson said recently that the agency soon would undertake an in-depth review of its fare structure, which includes fares that are among some of the highest in the country for urban systems.
“These are some very important first steps that will help RTD really remove some constraints on them,” Polis said. “… I’m excited to sign this bill to get the RTD reform efforts off to a good start.”
The bill was the first result of the RTD Accountability Committee, a panel convened by Polis and other state leaders last year to review RTD’s finances, leadership and operations, with an eye toward reforming the agency. Polis long has been critical of RTD and has pushed it to finish the severely underfunded northwest commuter rail line promised by FasTracks.
The committee issued early recommendations late last year that included loosening several restrictions on RTD — items geared at helping it to grow ridership, to improve its finances and to spur better transit-oriented development near higher-traffic rail stations.
The committee’s final report, due July 1, could recommend more difficult changes to how RTD operates.
But the committee appears poised to punt on one key question — whether to change RTD’s oversight structure — by recommending further study of the issue. For decades, the agency has been overseen by an elected board of 15 members who represent distinct districts within RTD’s sprawling, 2,342-square-mile service area. Some critics contend the unusual elected-board setup pits the parochial interests of some districts against others.
As for the early recommendations signed into law by Polis, committee co-chair Elise Jones told state senators during a hearing late last month: “I want to be clear, these are not silver bullets.” But Jones said they would help pave RTD’s path toward sustainability.
Gone is the farebox requirement, which originally was intended to put pressure on RTD to make its routes cost-effective. Instead, the bill requires RTD to track and report cost-efficiency metrics.
The legislation nixes several other restrictions, including one that limited RTD’s ability to charge for parking in its lots at stations; it now would have the ability to charge residents of the district during the first 24 hours, though RTD hasn’t announced any plans to do so for busier stations.
Another restriction kept RTD from fostering transit-oriented development on property it owns if the new development would reduce the availability of parking or compete with businesses in the area.
Other changes free up RTD in its operations, including in how much it contracts out some vehicle services and its ability to strike deals with local governments and nonprofits to provide service.
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