RTD’s New Year’s resolution rings like a transit revolution

From their Twitter feeds to their leather-bound planners, individuals and institutions are taking the turn of the New Year as a good time to reflect, recalibrate, reimagine. We at RTD started a little early, launching our own Reimagine RTD initiative back in the fall, and as we start a new year, it’s an opportune time to think big about the Denver metro area’s growth and changing needs for transportation. 

2020 will be the year the agency’s Reimagine initiative goes on steroids. A self-initiated transit revolution to rethink the agency and reimagine how to best provide the transit of the future. And we’re doing it with openness and transparency, bringing our regional partners under the tent to reimagine with us, and putting the people we serve first. In a democracy, no agency is an island, nor should it be, and we welcome the chance to have a dialogue about RTD’s successes and challenges with our partners who have been part of our growth and our changes over time. 

My favorite definition of “revolution” is: “a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something; a change of paradigm”. That’s precisely the intent of Reimagine RTD. 

RTD has been a trailblazer in the transit industry for 50 years, taking on many of the hardest tasks in resolving tough issues, resulting in valuable lessons learned for those who came after us. We were the first transit agency to deploy wheelchair lifts on our entire bus fleet, and implemented the first substantial electric bus fleet in the country with our Free MallRide shuttle. We put together the FasTracks plan and built a coalition of regional support that resulted in strong voter approval of the most ambitious transit expansion plan of that time. We showed how to keep mega projects on schedule and within budget, with 11 out of 14 major RTD projects since 1994 completed on time and on budget. We did experience delays on some lines, but that was due in part to blazing the trail of being the first agency in the country to install positive train control – a technology that has revolutionized transit safety – into a commuter rail system from the ground up.

The transit revolution closer to home has lots of dynamics. Public agencies across the state of Colorado are contemplating how to fund the many current transportation projects while also looking at how to plan for the transportation of the future. There are so many transportation plans, strategies and outreach processes going on as we all explore the best ways to move people. No entity is batting a thousand. Every agency is facing challenges – not enough money, differences over where new money should come from, construction plans sitting on a shelf, quickly changing technologies, low unemployment affecting the ability to fill much-needed jobs, and intense politics. 

There are some discussions emerging about restructuring RTD, or increasing the layers of oversight for the agency. We welcome the opportunity to underline how transparent we are, by law and by nature, and to reiterate all the lines of oversight and communication that already exist. RTD has some of the most extensive oversight of any agency in the state. The agency undergoes annual reviews of our financial statements and grants, which are directed by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA); a triennial review by the FTA; audits by the State Auditor’s Office based on the frequency they determine; and various audits every year on processes and practices through our Internal Audit Program. We have been and will continue to work with our local, state and federal partners on any processes that can enhance our delivery of transit and the public’s trust in RTD. 

It’s encouraging that so many people have a vested interest in the region’s transit future and are engaged in how we can set up the mobility of the future for success. I believe it will only happen through the Denver metro area’s unique brand of regional collaboration, which has been a model for the nation. So many cities, agencies and states have tapped RTD officials and our regional leaders over the past two decades to learn how they can emulate the Denver region’s success with regional cooperation and planning. We should continue to use our own successful model to solve our collective challenges. 

As we forge ahead with our transit revolution to explore and reflect how people want and need to move around this vast region, I hope we tap our own special brand of collaboration through the positive, productive, inclusive process we’ve set up through Reimagine RTD. This is for the greater good of the region, and it’s what the public would expect us to do.