RTD Sees Small Scale Start To New Low-Income Discount Program

August 14, 2019
An RTD bus sits idle at Alameda Station, just off the Denver neighborhoods of Baker and West Washington Park.An RTD bus sits idle at Alameda Station, just off the Denver neighborhoods of Baker and West Washington Park.Jim Hill/CPR News
RTD replaced their previous low-income fare program with a new system that offered a smaller discount, but would serve a larger number of riders.

Just under 250 people have qualified for RTD’s new low-income discount, according to figures presented to the agency’s board Tuesday night.

The program, which launched just over two weeks ago, allows riders who make about $23,000 a year — $47,638 for a family of four — to get 40 percent off train and bus tickets.

"This is the very beginning,” said board member Angie Rivera-Malpiede. “I think it will gain some momentum. We're going to learn a lot. I think that it's ultimately going to be hugely successful."

Some applicants were denied because they qualified for other, steeper, discounts, RTD CFO Heather McKillop said.

“We need to do a much better job of promoting our senior and youth discounts,” she said. “Because there are a lot of people that apparently don’t know about it.”

Nonprofits have criticized the new program because RTD plans to lower the discount offered from 50 percent to 40 percent at the end of the year. Tom Luehrs, executive director of the St. Francis Center, a day shelter for the homeless in downtown Denver, told CPR News in July that his organization won’t be able to give out as many bus passes.

“I think what this program is basically doing is supporting a wider community of people in need off the backs of the people who are most desperate,” Luehrs said.

McKillop said staff have met with nonprofits and doesn’t think they’ll “be able to solve all of the concerns,” she told the board. “But we’re trying to figure out which ones we can work through.”

Also on Tuesday night, the board received an update the RTD-Uber partnership announced last spring. RTD has sold 3,592 tickets in the Uber app since May.

"We're still amazed by that number,” McKillop said. “That has given us a whole new outlet into a different customer base.”

RTD Board Chair Doug Tisdale said conversations are continuing with Lyft to add a similar feature.