If you haven’t been on the light rail or a bus for a while, you aren’t alone.
RTD officials say the system’s ridership dropped steeply with the arrival of COVID-19 and remains about 60% lower than pre-COVID levels (with service itself reduced by 40%), causing serious financial strain for an agency that was already dealing with a bevy of challenges and changes before the pandemic.
“We are planning for at this point what we believe to be a projected $215 million budget shortfall,” said Laurie Huff, RTD’s Senior Communications Specialist. “And that means we are going to have to do some tough things.”
Earlier this month, one potential result of those tough things came into focus when RTD came out with a list of proposed service changes, including reductions and other changes to several lines and routes serving Jefferson County.
Among the proposed changes, which would go into effect in January if they are approved by the agency’s board of directors, would be the elimination of the final two stops of the Route 28 bus line, which goes from Wheat Ridge to LoDo in Denver.
Under the proposal, the westernmost stops at the Ward Road and I-70 Park and Ride and 26th and Kipling would be eliminated making 26th and Wadsworth the western terminus. The line would also be extended to the 30th and Downing light rail station in Denver.
One of the most significant changes would be to the GS regional bus route that goes between Golden and Boulder. Under the proposal, that route would be eliminated and replaced with either an Uber/Lyft service partnership that would subsidize rides between the cities on those services.
Jessie Carter, RTD’s Manager of Service Planning and Scheduling, said RTD was proposing to discontinue the GS and three other regional bus lines because demand is so low that RTD cannot justify dedicating resources to those roots when there are other routes that are seeing high demand that could better utilize those resources.
“We’re seeing loads per trip on those routes in the four to six range,” said Carter. “That is extremely low.”
Joshua Moore, an employee at National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, said during one of five virtual public input meetings held by RTD that he hoped the bus would be able to return after the pandemic is brought under better control. Those meetings were held between Oct. 8 and Oct. 12.
“I certainly am not disputing that ridership is way way down, in the past couple of months its not uncommon for me and the driver to be the only ones on the bus,” he said. “But hopefully as COVID ends I think the ridership will be their again both for people going to labs and professors and students that travel back and forth between CU and School of Mines.”
But while the changes will be a detriment to Goldenites looking to head to Boulder, other Jeffco RTD riders will likely see their experiences improved.
As part of the proposal, W line service would now depart from the Jeffco Government Center station in Golden to Union station starting at 4 a.m. on weekday rather than 5 a.m. with trains departing every 30 minutes rather than every hour. The W Line would meanwhile run between the Federal Center and Union every 15 minutes on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. rather than the current every 30 minutes.
Unspecified service level increases are also being considered for the 16 bus line between Golden and downtown Denver and the 44 between Wheat Ridge and the 40th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard Station in Denver as a result of high rider demand. Running time adjustments are also being considered to increase on time efficiency.
Those changes would likely be welcome by Goldenites who typically ride the 16L bus that ran between Golden and the Civic Center but has suspended since April as a result of COVID-19.
Carter said RTD will also look to bring the 16L and other already-suspended routes back once the pandemic is brought under control.