The Regional Transportation District won’t extend a pilot program for discounted fares on the N Line commuter rail after the program expires in a couple of weeks, RTD representatives confirmed.
The pilot program is federally regulated, and RTD can’t extend it even if it wanted to, explained RTD Director Vince Buzek at a North Area Transit Alliance (NATA) meeting on Feb. 25. Instead, RTD and partnering cities will have to explore alternatives if officials want to continue offering lower fares for everyone on the N Line.
Currently, a one-way trip between Denver Union Station and any of the N Line stops is $3.00, the cost of a “local” fare. However, the last two stops, Northglenn/112th Ave. and Eastlake/124th Ave., are considered regional stops. When a six-month pilot program ends on March 27, commuters at those stops will have to pay $5.25.
Northglenn City Councilor Julie Duran Mullica, who also sits on NATA, asked why those two stops are singled out along the seven-stop line. “Before any of these current directors were on the board, someone drew some circles on the map and said, `if you’re within the circle, you’re local. And if you’re outside, you’re regional,’” responded Buzek, whose district includes Westminster, Thornton and Northglenn.
Mullica expressed her frustration at the pilot program’s forthcoming expiration. “When you’re looking at my particular community, there’s no reason why the citizens of Northglenn should have a regional fare and have to pay more,” she said.
In addition to equitability, Thornton Mayor Pro Tem and NATA Chairperson Jessica Sandgren said it’s going to affect ridership. “I see less people taking the train, knowing that it’s going to go up an additional $2.25 for one way.”
The whole point of the pilot program in the first place was to see if it helped ridership, pointed out Westminster Mayor Pro Tem Anita Seitz, who sits on NATA. However, RTD wasn’t able to obtain clear data because ridership dropped due to COVID-19.
An idea that NATA members discussed was the cities of Northglenn and Thornton buying up the difference for riders at those two stops. Meanwhile, RTD Director Troy Whitmore, whose district includes Thornton and Brighton, said he will push for future RTD Board discussions about overall fare affordability. “Our (RTD) fares are on the top end in the country and that’s a bit problematic,” he said.
Fares are only part of the problem, as far as some NATA members were concerned. At a moment’s notice, RTD will cancel N-Line trips because of a dearth of operators or software issues, they said. RTD is solely responsible for operating the N Line, as opposed to the other commuter rails that a different company manages.
Though RTD will communicate to riders why it canceled a trip, Sandgren said there shouldn’t be cancellations at this point. “I think people are just tired of the reasons why it’s not working, and they just want it to work,” she said. “Six months of unreliable service is not going to get us to the ridership we want.” The N Line made its public debut on Sept. 21.
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