RTD’s BroncosRide isn’t coming back anytime soon. One reason? It may have violated federal disability rules.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
An RTD free shuttle bus on Denver’s 16th Street in LoDo, July 30, 2022.

Before the Regional Transportation District put it into hibernation in the spring of 2020, the decades-old BroncosRide bus service ferried thousands of passengers directly to Empower Field at Mile High for Broncos home games.

But the service is not coming back this season, which starts Saturday with an exhibition home game against Dallas. 

One big reason is because of RTD’s ongoing driver shortage, and special services like BroncosRide require lots of drivers to work extra shifts. Another reason is that BroncosRide and other special services violated federal regulations and perhaps the Americans with Disability Act, said CEO and General Manager Debra Johnson.

“We were doing a lot of things that didn't pass the sniff test,” Johnson said in an interview earlier this year.

RTD’s other special offerings once included bus service for Rockies and University of Colorado's Buffaloes football games, and the massive Bolder Boulder run over Memorial Day weekend. The transit agency cut them at the beginning of the pandemic, though it had made plans to do that even earlier as it grappled with the driver shortage.

Some on RTD’s governing board of directors have pushed the agency to bring back BroncosRide, noting its popularity.

"There are people in our districts, that's the only time they use our system,” Board member Troy Whitmore told the board in March. “They feel good about their tax dollar at work. And we can't provide it because we don't have the resources.”

But the way those special services were executed was problematic, Johnson replied. 

Some of the buses RTD contracted for BroncosRide in the past may not have been accessible, Johnson said, which would have violated federal disability laws. And because RTD receives federal dollars, it is prohibited under Federal Transit Administration regulations from competing with private charter services. Johnson further detailed her objections in a July 2021 memo.

RTD had also never completed an equity analysis on its special services, Johnson said. While the federal Civil Rights Act doesn’t require an equity audit for special services like BroncosRide, Johnson said she would want one completed before restoring services in the future.

Just don’t expect that to happen anytime soon. 

“My priority is trying to ensure that people that are trying to get to doctor’s appointments, critical jobs, things along those lines, school — that’s where the priority rests,” she said. “Not with the BroncosRide.”

She noted that RTD still serves the stadium with multiple rail lines and bus stations.