(The Center Square) – The transit agency that serves the Denver metro area is exploring the possibility of making a pilot program permanent that provides free fares to 19-year-old and under passengers.
In August, the Regional Transportation District announced its Zero Fare for Youth program. That will waive fares for people ages 19 and younger for all RTD services from Sept. 1 through Aug. 31, 2024.
Stuart Summers, communications officer for Regional Transportation District, said the agency asked for more time to complete a “fare equity analysis” while exploring making the Zero Fare for Youth free-ride permanent.
Summers stated under Federal Transit Administration rules, a fare equity analysis was necessary on all fare changes to ensure there was not a negative impact on minorities or low-income populations.
In June, July and August, public transit agencies in Colorado were able to waive fares for all passengers as part of the Zero Fare for Better Air initiative. Colorado Senate Bill 22-180 appropriated $28 million to fund the program.
Denver’s RTD buses had an increase in ridership in July and August from the previous year once fares were waived.
For example, ridership increased in August 2023 by 9% from August 2022, but RTD still lagged the pre-pandemic August 2019 by 28%. Transit companies across the country are struggling to reach its pre-pandemic ridership levels.
Fares and directly generated revenue equaled $203.7 million in 2019, the year before the pandemic. That dropped to $97 million in 2021.
Federal money for the Denver transit agency increased from $84.6 million in 2019 to $299 million in 2021, according to the Federal Transit Administration.