Those geniuses at the Regional Transportation District have a solution for everything.
FasTracks woefully over budget? Ask voters for more money. Multi-million-dollar budget deficit? Increase fares yet again. Declining ridership? Run an ad campaign.
First off, let us be clear that we are supporters of public transportation. Like all good, liberal-minded urbanites, we believe that a comprehensive mass transit system is a key ingredient for any great city. It's exciting to see the progress RTD has already made toward bringing Union Station and DIA into the fold.
But as discussed in the current episode of the Denver Diatribe podcast (listen here) it is disheartening to see recent figures showing that total RTD ridership has declined 2.5 percent. That's a further drop from last year, when ridership fell one percent from 2009. This downward trend is the opposite of what's happening in other major cities where high gasoline prices are prompting lots more people onto public transportation.
RTD officials point to things like the high unemployment rate for their lackluster figures. Yeah, right. The real reason: after year upon year of fare increases -- a 50 percent increase since 2007 -- some would-be RTD riders are making an economic choice to drive their automobiles instead. These days, a regular local cash fare costs $2.25, regular express cash fare is $4 and the regional fare is up to $5. Taking the light rail from Littleton to downtown and back costs ten bucks.
Diatribe guest Erica Grossman, a local writer/reporter, lays out how this calculation works:
For example, a couple of my coworkers live in Boulder and used to ride the bus into work every day. After this past increase, the cost of riding the bus to and from Boulder everyday exceeded the cost of driving and parking their car downtown, so they've ceased riding altogether. This is also true for Denver riders -- if you're willing to park a bit further away from downtown, it's still cheaper to buy a month-long parking pass than it is to ride public transportation.
Of course, these are people who have the luxury of choosing driving versus riding. Low-income residents who are dependent on RTD for transportation have no choice but to fork over higher rates.
We often judge cities by the quality of their public transportation. In Boston you can hop on the MBTA for $2. The CTA in Chicago is $2.15 per ride. These are cities with a higher cost of living than Denver and much more expansive transit systems.
We're sure RTD can come up with many reasons for this discrepancy. Maybe they can explain it to the public in a new ad campaign about why they need to increase rates even more. Just don't expect us to hop aboard.
Oh, and in completely unrelated news, this gushing Denver Post profile about billionaire offspring Josh Kroenke made us want to puke.