Union Station photographed in Denver, Colorado ...

Like many metro Denver residents, Sujata Fretz’s transit experience in recent years mostly has been limited to taking the A-Line to the airport when her family travels. She usually drives to work in Lakewood, though on rare occasions, she hops on her bike.

But during the first week of the Regional Transportation District’s free-fare August, Fretz decided to dabble more with transit.

That’s the kind of curious attitude RTD and state leaders are hoping to see more of this month — though in the first few days, preliminary boarding numbers hadn’t yet shown “a dramatic increase” over normal levels, RTD’s chief operating officer Michael Ford said. As the state-subsidized promotion began at RTD and about a dozen other transit agencies around the state, officials cautioned that it would take time for people’s habits to change, even if only to try something new.

Still, Gov. Jared Polis, state lawmakers and some transit advocates have expressed high hopes for reductions in road traffic and air pollution at the height of ozone season. The program, dubbed “Zero Fare for Better Air,” is funded in large part by $28 million in state money set aside for free-fare pilots around Colorado this year and again in 2023.

Some transit experts caution against high expectations or a lasting impact: While zero-fare transit programs elsewhere have produced big bumps in ridership, including a 16% increase in weekday boardings on metropolitan Salt Lake City’s system during a free February program this year, those tend to fade noticeably once fares are reinstated.

The promotion comes as transit agencies are struggling with slow ridership recovery from the pandemic, with RTD’s boardings still sitting at just 56% of normal levels as of May. RTD now typically records more than 1 million boardings a week.

For the first few mornings this week, Fretz rode her bike south from the West Highland neighborhood to catch the W-Line train. That line took her near the St. Anthony Hospital campus in Lakewood where she works as a doctor. One evening, she took a bus to meet up with a friend in Cherry Creek North.

The routing options weren’t always ideal. But the free fares made it easy to try things out.

“I think for getting to work, it’s been super easy,” said Fretz, 45. “That is absolutely something I would think about doing in the future. I think for social stuff around town, I’d be less likely to do …read more

Source:: The Denver Post – News


RTD riders applaud free fares during promotion. But is it a ridership strategy or a gimmick?

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