District M includes Golden, Wheat Ridge, Mountain View, a large portion of Lakewood and sections of unincorporated Jefferson County.
I'm a known "penny-pincher" and advocate for property owners.
Many people underestimate the size of the Regional Transportation District which serves the Denver metropolitan area but the fact is the district is somewhere between the 4th-6th largest government in the State of Colorado depending on the type of analysis.
More Coloradans have been watching the Regional Transportation District as it positions itself during the FasTracks build-out.
There are still challenges within the Dist. M area that are due to the West Line which opened April 2013.
The last year has been busy with the Flatiron Flyer / US36, CU A Line and B-Line openings. The breakdowns on the A Line have been a frequent question from citizens, whether riders or not, wondering whether the line has engineering deficiencies or if it wasn't tested enough. It's difficult to accurately say at this point.
We are now working towards increasing the frequency of updates to citizens so they can understand the delays and problems.
New 2016 Fares - Updated and Improved
Many new board directors were elected at the 2012 election and after several months of activity from the West Corridor Line opening, we came to agree that we had to look deeper into the financial agreements than had occurred in recent times. The West Corridor had come in over budget, though the RTD public relations department liked to claim it was on budget. I can address more about the budget in another blog post.
Many people didn't realize the West Corridor ticket price, depending on boarding location, was $4 instead of the local $2.25 fare. System-wide, the fare pricing had been complicated for a long time, wasn't equalized or getting any better with the addition of the new W Line, so we took on a long overdue task of overhauling the fare system. We held numerous "rounds" of public outreach that lasted close to a year.
It was also time to address fare prices overall as generally that's done every 1-3 years and the review was overdue.
In the midst of this, there was a strong lobbying effort by non-profits to implement an expanded low-fare program. One consistent complaint was the inequity for the cost of a light rail pass compared to a bus pass.
After extensive consideration we voted to adopt the following:
- Local rail fares dropped from $4.00 down to $2.60. **
- Local bus fares increased from $2.25 to $2.60. **
- The updated, local "Day Pass" dropped from $6.75 to $5.20.
- **The use of the Smart Card or our RTD Ticket Books creates a $0.25 discount.
This pricing was a big win for the West Line and express route riders. If you're going downtown, the exception to this on the West Line is Jefferson County Government Center, from there it's considered a regional trip and priced at the $4.50 level. Up to the final plan we had the Jeffco Government Center in the local range from Union Station but the City of Boulder wasn't happy with that and the City of Golden decided to write in support of Boulder so it "Taj Mahal's" station became a regional distance. It's unfortunate this happened as Golden had been made aware of the plan. The good thing was that regional fares went down in price so instead of $5 it is $4.50.
Several months later, the board expanded the cap on the non-profit program. Together we were able to work out plans that benefited the district as a whole and created a more equalized fare system.
This plan generates an overall increase to revenue but simplifies the pricing plans.
Other advances made by the RTD Board include moving forward on the Smart Card tap-n-go system which as of today is generating thousands of taps as it peaks for the pilot period.
Development in Lakewood, Golden, Arvada and Wheat Ridge
For those who have been involved in the West Line as it was planned and built out, you may now know the governments' drive to densify the corridor. While any group of people can argue the merits of pro-development versus keeping the homesteads, the fact of the matter is that Denver metropolitan area is a desert and we don't have the water to sustain the population growth.
There's some other concerns that exist because of the government plans for the areas of District M.
Example: The zoning put in place in 2003-2005 by the City of Lakewood along Colfax Avenue was meant to drive cars out. This multi-step zoning process was put in place by cities; the Regional Transportation District doesn't designate property use zoning. Now Colorado is a very independent state and for some people their car fits their lifestyle, job and independence best. I'm sad to say there are individuals, some of them elected officials, out there who feel we should be further restricted on using cars.
When I testified against this zoning long before I was RTD Board Director, I told the city council the following story as an example of what could come from this anti-car zoning.
Picture a Mom & Pop auto repair shop along the Colfax corridor, which IS a business district. Their son works there and is going to take over the shop in a few years so his Dad can retire, but first he's going into the armed services for a couple years. While the son is away, his father becomes very ill and can't operate the shop so it sits vacant for 2 years though the family still owns the building. By halting operations and being vacant for more than 180 days, the "use" of the building as a car repair facility is lost.
Zoning by a government can lead to harming a family dream. It's true and I've seen the challenges for small businesses.
Transparency Wins and Challenges while I serve the public as their RTD Board Director
I'm passionate about transparency in government spending and its behavior in general. If you are interested in transparency in government spending and have good csv skills, maybe Microsoft Access, or PHP skills - please contact me if you'd like to volunteer. The transparency project includes more than just RTD.
...After vigorous persuasion about why it's important that each government district have its accounts payable online, the RTD put up the district check register. The first month available is October 2015 which you can find under Financial Reports HERE .
While I'm feeling better now that the district's check register and purchasing orders are now online, we'll need to work on this more so it provides better accessibility.
There's more than one thing missing from the functionality of the financials posted at RTD.
1. Right now it shows only the latest month instead of showing the initial October 2015 post to present.
2. The PDF doesn't allow the average computer user to sort, filter and tabulate search results. For me, I have a converter (which cost money) that turns PDFs into Excel. The average citizen shouldn't have to go to that extent.
A good search engine for a check register will create a total spent from any search term you use. E.g. if you want to see all checks issued to Union Station Project Authority you should get the list with a total amount. If you want all checks that have "Gasoline" in the description, you should be able to see all those with a total spent. These are normal search capabilities that enhance government transparency and the ultimate goal of transparency is that it saves money because it makes it easier for companies to submit bids for the products and services that government agencies use.
3. The purchase orders posted at the rtd-denver.com are not "machine-readable" because they are paper copies that were scanned and saved as PDF. Supposedly our Oracle system is one or two subscription levels below what we need. Another thread to keep chasing on as RTD Director for the district!
RTD Online Transparency Update - The manager of purchasing contacted me to share that although some folks were apprehensive about my suggestion that we publish the check register and purchasing orders online they had worked thru their concerns.
His second comment was that posting the register and PO's had benefited RTD financially because vendors were now finding us on the internet and contacting us to say they could submit competitive bids and potentially save us money.
Saving Taxpayer's Money
Over the last few months we've been able to reduce some unnecessary RTD expenditures. Most recent was a plan by Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), the Regional Transportation District (RTD) and the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce which would have cost taxpayers $1.5 million for another plan about what to do about the emerging technologies including share-ride services.
Many of us are used to governments spending on a lot of money on planning. The study goes on for many months and then may go somewhere or fizzle out.
This $1.5 million dollar plan was likely to fall short as it's a bit early to know what transportation methods are solidly working and can be used as building blocks.
As Chair of the Finance Committee, I'd been tempted to pull the item off the action table but didn't do and allowed further discussion. Our committees are different than the committees you'd find in the state legislature. Proposals are mostly submitted by RTD staff and left to the Board to evaluate.
In this case, we reviewed it for nearly an hour and heartily voted it down except for a few on the board who thought it was the right time to spend more money on planning.
One of the biggest reasons I voted no as Finance Chair was because when I dug up documents on this BluePrint Mobility Plan, the plan appears to use taxpayer's money to fund a ballot issue in 2018. As far as I'm concerned, that's an immoral way to use taxpayer money so it was never going to pass.