After months of talks, the Regional Transportation District and state lawmakers have settled on one month as the target length for a fare-free transit pilot during the hot, smoggy summer months.
A bill unveiled in recent days passed its first committee vote 4-1 on Tuesday afternoon. Sen. Faith Winter, a Westminster Democrat, said the month of August is likely when RTD would run its first fare-free pilot, with another one possible in 2023.
If it clears both chambers, Senate Bill 180 would set aside $14 million each of the next two summers to help pay for free-transit programs around Colorado, with the bulk reserved for RTD, the state’s largest public transportation provider. Gov. Jared Polis signaled his support for the idea by including funding in his budget proposal for the coming year, but RTD still would have to work out many details.
The bill also includes $30 million to expand service in coming years on Bustang, the state’s regional bus service. The number of daily trips on lines connecting Denver to Fort Collins, Grand Junction and Colorado Springs could roughly double as ridership increases, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.
The main hope of the free-transit pilot is to draw more people out of their cars and onto RTD’s buses and trains at the height of the season when metro Denver’s ozone readings frequently fly off the charts.