RTD wants to expand its summer free fare program this year

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
An RTD bus passes the Gove Community Garden on Colorado Boulevard in Denver, Oct. 28, 2022. Denver’s Colorado Boulevard these days often feels like a traffic-choked, pedestrian-intolerant, sometimes-totally run down mess. But CDOT and the city are in the early stages of making bus transit improvements that could restore some of the road’s original feel.

The Regional Transportation District wants to go big on free fares this year.

RTD staff have proposed an expansion of last year’s state-sponsored free rides program during the summer ozone season. The 2022 version ran during the month of August when ridership increased 22 percent compared to the year before.

Now, RTD says an extra injection of state money through a new bill will allow it to offer free fares during July and August. 

An RTD board committee will vote on that proposal next week. RTD will also soon send a grant application to the state to fund the program, said agency spokesman Stuart Summers. 

RTD staff are also proposing a year-long free-ride program for youth. That idea came out of a lengthy overhaul of the agency’s overall fare structure, which will likely result in lower prices.

Even if the board approves it this summer, the new fare structure won’t kick in until early 2024. RTD staff want to move up the one-year free youth fare pilot program to coincide with the school year.

RTD also has its eye on making a free youth fare permanent. RTD staff say they’ll collect data during the pilot program for an equity analysis required by the federal government for permanent fare changes, and they’ll “begin discussions with potential funding partners.” They estimate one year of free youth fares will cost about $5 million.

More details about that program will be presented to the board in July.