RTD Committee votes to advance promotional fare pilot program for N Line to the full Board

The Regional Transportation District (RTD) Board of Directors on Tuesday night gave preliminary approval to removing more expensive regional fares for the first six months of operations on the N Line, the agency’s newest commuter rail line, when it opens next year.
    
All 15 board members joined a 10-to-5 committee vote that elevates the North Metro Line Promotional Fare Pilot Project to a final Board vote next week. Under the pilot, any trip of any distance on the N Line would be a $3 one-way local fare, rather than the $5.25 one-way regional fare that riders would ordinarily pay if their trip extends through three fare zones. 
    
The 13-mile N Line from Union Station to Northglenn is projected to open in 2020, with testing of its newly built track and systems underway. 
    
Board members promoting the plan called it an appropriate reward to northern suburban commuters who have waited longer than other FasTracks voters to enjoy rail transit, as well as a bold experiment in reversing a recent passenger decline. 
    
Operations and Customer Service Committee Chair Kate Williams said part of her day job includes fielding calls from transit riders, who see parts of Adams County as “one of the largest transit deserts in the metro area.” 
    
“Anything we can do to help people to ride the N line when it opens is a benefit to that region as a whole,” Williams said. 
    
RTD General Manager and CEO Dave Genova spoke briefly in support of the pilot program and the staff analysis detailing pros and cons. 

“I think we can learn from this particular pilot,” Genova said. He noted, however, that expanding the pilot to other lines, as some board members discussed, would first require a federally mandated equity and impact analysis.
    
Some directors questioning the pilot said it would be difficult to draw ridership lessons from the pilot, since the new N Line won’t have previous benchmarks set with the existing fare structure. Others question the equity of lowering fares on one line but not on other lines or bus routes. 
    
“We have not explored this with an equity analysis. This begs more questions than answers,” Director Shontel Lewis said. 
    
Staff estimates for the pilot suggest that eliminating the regional fare for the N Line would cost RTD about $180,000 in revenue, with initial ridership previously projected at 9,500 on weekdays. 
    
Directors who approved the pilot for a full board vote said they thought the idea was a good example of cooperating with local officials. They also said the fare break would be welcome to commuters who have to use transit to get to minimum-wage jobs.
    
“Maybe it is time to think in a different direction,” Director Angie Rivera-Malpiede said. “We all see that we need to be creative.”