RTD’s express Denver-Boulder Flatiron Flyer bus isn’t coming back anytime soon. You can blame staffing shortages for that

Nathaniel Minor/CPR News
Passengers wait for the Boulder-bound Flatiron Flyer to leave the bus depot at Denver’s Union Station on Thursday, June 2, 2022.

The Regional Transportation District’s express bus between Denver and Boulder has been suspended for so long that some would-be passengers don’t even know it existed.

“It would save so much time,” lamented Brooke Ely, a Boulder student who regularly travels to Denver on a local version of the Flatiron Flyerthe FF1.

She didn’t know about the express FF2, which RTD suspended at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020, when a reporter asked her about it at Union Station last week. 

“It takes me like two hours, eating up my day, just sitting on the bus,” she said. “I can't really get anything done, [because I] get car sick. So having an express would change everything.”

Timothy Cox chimed in with a similar sentiment: “I’d definitely like to have an express bus,” said Cox, who recently moved to Boulder from Ohio to attend school. He also didn’t know about the FF2. 

With five fewer stops than the FF1, the FF2 shaved off precious minutes for regular commuters. Before the pandemic, the seven different iterations of the Flatiron Flyer collectively carried some 13,000 passengers a day.

The FF2 and other suspended versions of the Flatiron Flyer are among the most requested for resurrection, according to RTD staff. One recent social media post showed a very crowded bus during rush hour.

“Everybody loves the FF2,” Lynn Guissinger, the RTD board director for Boulder County, said in response to a question about its possible return during a telephone town hall meeting this week. 

But the line won’t be coming back any time soon. Despite a new raise for drivers and mechanics, RTD is still facing a staffing shortage that’s severely limiting its ability to restore more service to pre-pandemic levels.

Will RTD ever bring the FF2 back?

Yes, eventually. The RTD board will soon vote on a significant overhaul of the bus network that will take five years to fully carry out. And there’s good news for Denver-Boulder commuters: The FF2 is part of that plan.

What’s the earliest that might happen?

RTD adjusts its service schedule three times per year: winter, spring and fall. RTD staff recently published their proposal for the next changes in late August — and made it clear it still didn’t have enough staff for a “substantial” restoration of service. 

That means the next opportunity would be over the winter of 2022-2023. And that’s dependent on hiring and retention — it could take longer. 

Meanwhile, Guissinger encouraged her constituents to pile into the FF1 this August, when fares will be free.

“It’s a great time to turn out and fill those buses and help make the argument to bring the FF2 back,” she said.

What about other Boulder County transit services that have been reduced or suspended?

Last year, the state helped Boulder County take control of $34.2 million in federal COVID relief money otherwise destined for RTD. 

Now, thanks to a recent letter from Boulder County, we know what it wants to spend that money on: Boulder’s HOP bus, a new Boulder to Lyons bus, the JUMP and BOLT buses, Longmont to Denver buses, the Boulder to Nederland bus, on-demand services in east Boulder County, and paratransit service. 

The goal is to complement RTD’s remaining services, said Kathleen Bracke, Boulder County’s deputy director of community planning and permitting. The “Lyons Flyer,” for example, will replace RTD’s long-suspended Y bus. It will be operated by Via Mobility Services and could start running as soon as this summer, Bracke said. On-demand services could start in the “near-term” too, Bracke said. 

“We're doing all of these things as quickly as we can so that we can get the service back,” Bracke said. “That's our primary goal.”

Boulder County also wants to partner with RTD to enhance the existing Nederland bus so RTD can focus its resources on restoring the Flatiron Flyer, Bracke said. 

An RTD spokeswoman said the agency supports Boulder County’s efforts.

Well, what about that train Boulder County has been paying for since 2005? When’s that coming?

Definitely not anytime soon. Pull up a chair, put in your headphones, and listen to the four-part Ghost Train podcast for the full answer. Or read this if you’re in a hurry.