The fact that Aurora’s getting run over by the RTD light rail bureaucracy as it threatens to cut service to its brand-new R Line is not the problem.
The Regional Transportation District is the problem, and RTD is a big problem.
Certainly Mayor Steve Hogan and the city’s transportation chiefs know it’s a problem. It’s a problem to get clear, accurate information from them, Hogan says. Here’s how bad it is. In talking with Hogan and veteran Aurora transportation guru Mac Callison this week about RTD announcing that it wants to scale back R Line service, reporters here were breaking news to them that RTD would actually, sort of, kind of extend H Line service north to ease the pain of the mass transit folks cutting R Line service back so much that they’ll stop running trains on the line during daytime hours and on weekends.
No kidding. A brand-spanking new multi-billion dollar light-rail service that Metro Aurora has waited decades for, and you won’t be catching that train between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays and never on a weekend.
They’re cutting service because not enough people are riding the train. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that cutting service will not be conducive of increasing R Line ridership. You just have to be an RTD manager to make any sense of this.
Hogan said he and his staff have pressed hard to find out why in the hell they would do this just a few months after turning the damn thing on. To save money?
“Nope,” Hogan said. They told him this is not a budgetary move. “So then — what?”
Nonsense. And the problem is, nonsense is what pushes RTD off its rails day in and day out, year in and year out.
I’ve worked with RTD employees for years. They’re not stupid. They work hard and they can deliver the goods. The problem is at the top. Neither the RTD board nor its top leadership understand the difference between good and good enough. The RTD system in the metro area has never been and is not now good enough.
Sure, the trains are great. The bus drivers are friendly and some of the routes are helpful. But the problem is that RTD leaders have this ludicrous ‘build it and they will come” attitude that clearly doesn’t work. They don’t understand that RTD can’t just create a mass transit system, they have to create a system AND they have to get people to use it. They don’t think the last part of that is their job. It is.
If not enough people are riding the R Line, rather than cut the service, RTD needs to draw riders to the line.
That’s the hard part, but nobody ever said mass transit in Colorado is easy. We have a western mindset against it. But we’ve funded RTD and stood behind it because we know that if we don’t move people around the metro area on mass transit, we will choke ourselves to economic and environmental death in a traffic catastrophe.
You know, I know, Hogan knows that it doesn’t matter how cool the train is, if you can’t get to the damn thing without your commute becoming a second-job, the trains will be empty.
I’m not a mass transit specialist, but, hey, clearly, neither is anyone in charge at RTD. So here’s some low-hanging fruit:
• It’s too damn expensive. If you live in Aurora and want to ride light-rail to Denver, it’s $9 round-trip. If you have to drive to the train station — because riding a bike on streets like Peoria or Chambers Road will get you killed and who has a few hours to walk several miles or wait for the smattering of buses that add an hour or two to your commute — add time and money to that. If you park at the Iliff Station, which the city paid millions to build, add more dollars each day. Nobody cares that you’re only paying 20 percent of the cost of your ride with your fare. It’s too expensive. At least kill the third fare zone that penalizes Aurora riders for living in a place RTD can keep beating them up.
• Bring back discounted eco passes for businesses. This is the part that mystifies those of us who don’t work at RTD. Those buses and trains run no matter how many people are on them. Make the system cheaper and on time, and more people will fill the seats. You get more money from 100 people paying half the price than nobody paying full fare.
• Let poor people ride free.
• Advertise the line. Maybe put it on all of your buses. People are confused RTD calls Aurora’s A Line the DIA line to Colorado University. Hire qualified, accountable marketing professionals and get people on board.
But get RTD decision makers on board first.