RTD Board Votes Down Free Election Day Rides

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
RTD buses at the busy Decatur-Federal stop on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020.

Update Tuesday, Oct. 20: The resolution failed on an 8-7 vote, with some directors citing concerns over cost and a lack of time to prepare and promote the plan before Election Day.

Our original story continues below.

The Regional Transportation District board of directors will vote Tuesday evening on whether to offer free rides on Nov. 3, Election Day.

That practice is common across the country, from small agencies to large ones. Shontel Lewis, the RTD board member who authored the resolution, said free rides would be "a public good."

"The folks that are utilizing our services are Black, brown, Indigenous folks who are dependent on public transportation," she said. "And we want to really encourage their participation in voting, in our democracy."

Colorado's all-mail system results in millions of voters returning their ballots early. But hundreds of thousands of Coloradans have still voted on Election Day in years past.

Lewis' resolution has two co-sponsors, Jeff Walker and Doug Tisdale. At least eight of the 15 board members will need to vote yes at a committee meeting Tuesday to advance it to a final vote next week.

"We could benefit from some good PR, and some public good, and some trust in our agency," Lewis said. "And so this is an opportunity to do that as well."

Cost could be one big issue. RTD staff say suspending fares for one day will cost between $85,000 and $118,000, a "drop in the bucket," Lewis said, compared to the agencies overall budget. The agency is currently planning for a $215 million cut to its 2021 budget as it tries to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Lewis' resolution calls for RTD to try to offset the expense by pursuing partnerships with other governments, individuals, companies, and "novel social media funding mechanisms."

Read More: RTD Plans Big Staffing Cuts As Coronavirus Decimates Budget