From the Opinion Panel: Reduced Bus Service in Boulder

An empty Depot Square in Boulder Junction (Courtesy of Eric Budd)

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Amid budget challenges and driver shortages, the Regional Transportation District plans to cut bus service in Boulder as it prioritizes high-traffic areas. Your thoughts?

Fred Hobbs: RTD plans do not meet our needs

“If you look at the ridership profile and what has resisted, it’s people who really want to be on public transit. And so we really want to serve them.

So said Brian Welch, Senior Director of Technical Services Planning at the Regional Transportation District, when discussing the RTD projects. plans to revamp its services in Denver, Boulder and Aurora.

Although Welch may believe that the RTD plan will provide the transportation services they want tothe question is: will we get the transport services that we need?

Unfortunately, the answer to this question seems to be no.

The RTD plan adequately protects services in densely populated areas and areas where low-income residents live. However, it also reduces services in suburban areas, including routes to and from Boulder. The inevitable result will be more traffic and congestion in Boulder, and will likely also make it more difficult for Colorado to meet its climate goals.

Take, for example, the case of Erie. The very definition of a dormitory community, Erie residents work (and therefore commute to) locations across the Front Range. And like many other suburban communities in Colorado, Erie is growing fast – 5.23% per year, according to census data, and its population has increased by 74.97% since 2010.

With this type of growth, it would seem logical to increase RTD services to this burgeoning population. Instead, the RTD plan includes a proposal to reduce the frequency of weekday peak hour service in Erie. Erie residents who want (or need) to use public transportation to get to work or important appointments will face a dearth of options.

Erie’s experience is not unique to Colorado, or even across our country. This lays bare one of our greatest challenges – our unhealthy dependence on the automobile, especially in the suburbs. The RTD plan only reinforces this dependence and, in the long term, will further aggravate an already untenable situation.

We don’t need transportation plans that maintain the status quo. We need a plan that helps wean us all, wherever we live, from unsustainable and climate-damaging modes of transport.

Fred Hobbs is Director of Public Relations at Imagine!, which serves people with disabilities living in Boulder and Broomfield counties. Learn more about Fred.

Nikki Rashada McCord: Our New Neuro-Inclusive Community Bus Service Loses

Boulder’s Transit Village loses another transit option. The housing and retail development that was built to support the (probably never arrived) RTD light rail transit between Denver and Boulder is now also losing bus service to Union Station and the airport.

We must ask ourselves what lessons can we draw from this adventure. The city has built a 15-minute walkable neighborhood with a high-density and diverse housing stock. the nominated 30PRL affordable apartment community and luxury apartments are in the same neighborhood, creating integrated housing opportunities that do not produce siled, affordable housing-only neighborhoods. The only thing missing is a comprehensive, affordable, and reliable public transit option.

While our neighbor in market rate condos in Transit Village may have multiple transportation options, our neighbor living in neuro-inclusive housing — dwellings that provide financially, physically, and cognitively accessible residential options — at 30PRL may have fewer public transit options. I believe that policy should be designed to benefit the most vulnerable of our neighbours.

It may be wise for RTD to eliminate these two paths, but it is important for us to understand how this change will affect those with fewer options. While our neurodivergent neighbor could previously have walked to the Boulder Junction station and taken a bus to Denver or the airport, he will now have to change buses, making the trip more stressful and less accessible.

RTD is permitted to review the data and make business choices based on that data. As a community, it is our responsibility to ensure that our most vulnerable neighbors always have access to service, whatever decisions a company may make.

Nikki lives in Boulder and is a firm believer that red pepper shouldn’t contain beans. Learn more about Nikki.

Jake Brady: It’s all about the Benjamins. It shouldn’t be.

Let’s not sugarcoat the situation with RTD. A recent editorial from Denver Post describes an organization “in debt, dependent on exorbitant fares for even the poorest passengers” and “unable to hire and retain employees due to a legacy of low wages and forced overtime…”

Locally, residents collectively contributed millions of dollars to a train that was never built. From now on, RTD is constantly considering cutting routes like FF6, AB2, J and Y, all in the midst of climate catastrophe. Naturally, people are upset.

Nevertheless, transit planners face harsh realities when trying to build an efficient system. On the one hand, it is difficult create a bus network that optimizes both ridership (high frequency buses along dense corridors) and coverage (infrequent lines to places like Lyon), especially with a limited budget. Additionally, in cities like Denver, transit needs typically increase at a rate faster pace than tax revenue.

So what to do? The simplest answer is to increase funding for RTD. This way, the agency can clear its maintenance backlog, pay off debt, better compensate employees, reduce fares, and provide efficient transit options in urban, suburban, and rural areas. To be clear, I’m not talking about increasing the sales tax, which disproportionately burdened the working poor. We must overcome our aversion to taxing the richest among us, whether through a progressive income tax, a tax on real estate transfers or a tax on the salaries of large corporations. The state must also contribute its fair share.

It is vitally important that we give working class people in transit dependent areas the boost they deserve. At the same time, we must remember that our most vulnerable neighbors right here in Boulder rely on routes that are on the chopping block. We must also consider the inevitable climate impact of service cuts: before the pandemic, CDOT found that we would need a 70% increase in RDT transport services by 2030 to meet our emissions targets. Restoring just 85% of pre-COVID service levels by 2027 will not be enough.

RTD certainly has its work cut out to regain the trust of local voters. But we can start on the right track today by providing the dollars needed to build a robust regional transportation system that serves the most vulnerable among us while advancing our climate goals.

Jake Brady has been a tenant in Boulder since 2017. He longs for a world with more worker power, stronger protections for tenants, and ubiquitous social housing. Learn more about Jacques.

Boulder Beat Opinion Group members write in their own capacity. Their views do not necessarily reflect those of Boulder Beat.

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