Those who have taken public transportation around the Denver area in August probably noticed they didn’t have to pay anything. RTD’s “Zero Fare for Better Air” initiative, lets Coloradans in the Denver area use public transportation for free. This includes short bus trips, metro rail systems, and even long rides to places like the airport or Boulder. The goal is to incentivize people in the Denver area to use public transportation instead of their vehicles.
Zero Fare for Better Air is an effort by RTD and the Colorado Energy office to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Denver. RTD chose August because the month is Colorado’s high ozone season. The Denver Metro Area already has one of the worst ozone problems in the country, and this is increasing as climate impacts worsen across the state. Greenhouse gas emissions from cars are one reason for the high ozone levels, and the high temperatures make this more intense. This summer has been a scorcher for the front range, with 90-degree days and records being smashed.
I took a couple of rides on RTD buses during the Zero Fare initiative to see if it was as convenient and relaxing as it was hyped up to be. I took the bus around Boulder and a longer bus trip from Boulder to Union Station in downtown Denver. A regular day pass for RTD usually costs around 10 dollars, so going anywhere in the front range for free is a big plus for anyone who needs to take the bus to get around.
My longer ride started from the Boulder downtown station to Union Station, a huge hub for RTD public transportation. I also drove this route to see how long it would take compared to riding the bus. I took the same drive and route as the RTD bus, and it’s no surprise to anybody who has regularly taken public transportation, taking the bus took substantially longer than taking my own car. A drive to Downtown Denver from Boulder usually runs you around 30 minutes granted traffic isn’t too rough. The RTD took just under an hour with light traffic.
But it was quite nice to be able to sit back and not worry about being in traffic or finding a parking spot once you get to your destination. The bus on the longer trip I took started to get pretty crowded as more people boarded from the bus stops in Boulder and the surrounding suburbs. Nearly everybody got off at Union Station in Denver. People from all different walks of life were on the bus. Rockies fans were going to the ballgame, bikers in full gear, and people going home from work.
I spoke to Daniel on the bus to see why he decided to take the RTD during the Zero Fare initiative. Daniel, who was dressed in cycling gear, said he “lives down in Denver and decided to take advantage of the free fares to come up to Boulder and go biking on some mountain roads.”
We also spoke to Janelle who was waiting for the bus at 44th and Vrain in Berkeley. She lives in nearby apartments and appreciates the bus. “With RTD, I can go when I need to go. I don’t have to depend on people. It’s easier to take the bus.” As she boarded she breezed right by the Zero Fare sign.
Zero Fare for Better Air came to fruition after Colorado Senate Bill 22-180 passed, which gave RTD funding to be able to provide people taking public transportation with free fares. “By unlocking that grant money, we were allowed the opportunity to zero out our fares for the month of August during the height of the ozone pollution season,” said Brandon Figliolino said, Senior Specialist for the Community Engagement Communications Department of RTD.
This is all in an effort to increase ridership on RTD public transportation, which RTD has noticed has taken a significant dip since the pandemic hit in early 2020. “We really want to implement behavior changes when it comes to transportation with Zero Fare for Better Air,” Figliolino said, “We are hopeful that it will help people develop new patterns because the pandemic really shifted how people commute to and from work.”
More people working remotely and socially distancing has inadvertently led to far fewer people going on RTDs trains and buses than in pre-pandemic times, something that the public will have to change if greenhouse gas emissions are to decrease. RTD is hoping people who do not usually take public transportation will try it out while it is free and continue to do so once the Zero Fare initiative ends.
RTD also reminds would be riders it will save them money on gas. Although fuel prices are coming down, they still are high. Taking public transportation can help people cut how much they spend on gas. RTD even has a tool on its website that allows users to see how much they could save on gas by taking public transportation. It goes pretty in depth, and you can calculate exact amounts. RTD also emphasizes how much more relaxing it is to take the bus compared to your own car since you don’t have to pay attention to traffic or other roadway inconveniences as you sit back and wait for one of their drivers to get you to your destination.
RTD is also planning on making their public transportation more sustainable to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “Our fleet of mall ride buses, which counts to 36 are fully electric, RTD has also purchased 17 electric buses for the system that will be delivered in 2023,” Figliolino said.
RTD along with the help of the Colorado Government is envisioning a future where we can actively take charge against the effects of climate change, which are increasingly devastating our state with drought and wildfires. RTD is joining in the fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by working to create a more sustainable and affordable public transportation system for everyone.