I started going to RTD (Regional Transportation District) board meetings back in 2017. I wanted to know why bus service had gotten so unreliable, and I wanted them to fix it.
At the time, I was trying very hard to get my life back on track. I’d gone through a period of mental and emotional disorders and substance abuse. I was on probation and got a job at a grocery store. I’d get off work at 10 pm, 11 pm at night and take the last bus back home. The trip took an hour on a good day. But the schedules they gave out didn’t line up with the actual service. Often the bus would come 10 or 20 minutes late, which meant missing a transfer. Sometimes the bus just wouldn’t show up at all. So, the two hours round-trip turned into four.
The explanation I kept hearing from RTD and in the news was: bus operator shortage.
I was picking up my life then, making an hourly wage, with funds really tight. And, in that situation, you’re trying to build your reputation, show you’re putting your life together, start building a career. I wondered, “Will I ever get a promotion if I’m late once a week? Should I even try?” It feels like society is working against you. This is the bus service you get, and you just have to deal with it.
Probation has a lot of requirements. You have random urine analysis (UA), mental health appointments. But you just wouldn’t know if you’d get there on time. You could get called for a random UA, and with the bus travel that 15 minute appointment would take your entire day. I’d look and see I’d left at 11 in the morning and wasn’t back home until 5. And it was so psychologically stressful. A lot of times I just felt very sad and angry. I felt pathetic having to call my probation officer and say, “I can’t make it today. The bus isn’t here.”
What I had working in my favor was social capital. I started calling RTD customer service and piling up complaints, I was showing up at the board meetings, I was talking with the community resource outreach staffer. I started meeting with the deputy chief of police for RTD. So, I was able to be up front with my probation officer about what was happening and had the contacts at RTD to back me up. I could ask the police chief at RTD to connect with my probation officer.
But that didn’t make the bus come on time. At work, I was pushing shopping carts, and my legs were tired from that, and I had Achilles tendonitis. One night I got off work, and the bus just didn’t show. It just didn’t come. I couldn’t pay for a taxi. It was an hour walk home in pain.
If you look at the numbers, you can see that the number of lost bus service hours exploded by 2017. Finally, instead of adding more service, they wound up cutting routes. We’ve had more cuts since then, and there are still ongoing cancellations. We really need to invest in better bus service.
For me personally, things are better. Now, I live five minutes from a light rail station, and cancellations are rare, so I can get to downtown Denver in an hour. I’ve got a new job as a Bilingual Resources Advocate at a women’s shelter. But public transit is still as important to me as ever, and funding bus service should be a priority. Reaching 15-minute frequency would be huge for people. Buses are such a critical service.
“Transit Stories” is a series of real-life experiences with public transit in the U.S. Every Tuesday, we will feature the first-hand experience of public transit riders from across the country in this short newsletter. From large cities to small towns, we will document the experiences of the millions of users of busses, trains, ferries, and other forms of public transit in the US. Public transit is essential to our communities, to cooling the planet, to advancing equity. Transit is essential to our very lives.
This year there is a unique opportunity for the country to make a historic investment in public transit funding to help the country build back better. This story and all the others will be archived at transitjustice.org. For media inquiries, contact Doug Gordon, email@example.com.