RTD expresses concerns about the impacts of SB20-151

Members of the Colorado Legislature this session have introduced a bill that would significantly alter how RTD is governed and managed, raising agency concerns that the proposed changes would add layers of bureaucracy and divert crucial resources from transit improvements. 

As currently written, RTD officials said, the bill duplicates existing mandates, exposes the agency to unproductive and potentially costly litigation, overrides cooperative advances made with interest group partners, and ignores larger issues of funding and regional collaboration.

SB20-151 is sponsored by State Senators Jack Tate and Robert Rodriguez, and State Representatives Dominque Jackson and Colin Larson would add two voting directors appointed by the governor and representing riders with disabilities and equitable transit goals. The state treasurer and the director of the Colorado Department of Transportation would also be added, as non-voting members. The current RTD Board, as required by the state legislation first drafted in 1969 and amended since, consists of 15 voting members representing geographic districts. It is already one of the largest in the nation. 

The legislation as introduced would also direct more state audits of RTD, require RTD to follow state accessibility statutes in addition to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act requirements already in place, and require live video streaming of RTD Board meetings. 

Some of the renewed call for additional state oversight is in reaction to recent RTD challenges, including a severe operator shortage that has canceled multiple trips and prompted a temporary service cut proposal, as well as a shortage of FasTracks sales tax revenue to complete north suburban transit lines. (RTD leaders have said the 2008 economic crash cut $1 billion from projected FasTracks revenue, delaying the possibility of completing those lines.)

At the same time, growing traffic congestion and federally mandated cuts to auto and industrial emissions point to public transit as an important potential solution for metro Denver’s structural pollution problems.
 
RTD leadership said it will continue to work collaboratively with legislative partners on the bill, to ensure it moves forward with productive components that enhance rather than dilute RTD’s mission to serve customers safely and effectively.

RTD has significant concerns about the following aspects of the bill: 

  • RTD has a deep and productive relationship with disability rights advocates and passenger advocacy groups throughout the metro area. Denver and RTD services were ground zero for the nationwide disability rights movement of the 1970s, and RTD is proud of the gains it has made in serving all communities fairly. All planning is done through that lens of equity. Layering new state rules on disability could conflict with extensive federal ADA oversight. Specifically in recent years, RTD developed an accessibility review process for every installation or relocation among more than 3,000 bus stops. Buses and light rail cars were reconfigured for more wheelchair space. RTD also established two working groups that represent people with disabilities, which help maintain a collaborative relationship with riders and the disability rights community. Working group accomplishments include sliding doors in the bus concourse at Denver Union Station and better designs for Access-a-Ride vans. 
  • Requiring additional audits would present budget- and time-consuming hurdles. The agency, for example, is already subject to financial auditing from 13 outside entities including existing state audit powers, in addition to extensive and transparent internal controls. 
  • The publicly elected, regionally representative RTD Board was established by the state legislative in 1969. Serving eight counties and more than 2,340 square miles, RTD’s service area is the largest of any transit agency in the United States. Adding Board members from non-geographic constituencies could set precedence for other constituencies to request representation on the Board. 
  • In addition to the 15-member elected board, RTD complies with a wide variety of requirements from union contracts to federal laws. Duplicating existing requirements may strip available funds for everyday services.
  • RTD’s Board has approved and pursued live streaming of meetings, and is currently awaiting upgrades to downtown fiber optics by the City and County of Denver in order to complete the plan. Meetings are open to the public, are posted with full agendas and extensive background information, and are recorded and archived online. 
  • Finally, discussions about the future of transportation in metro Denver and suburban counties should include transit funding. Regional cooperation and innovation are key to solving the capacity, pollution and economic development needs of this fast-growing area.