Bill to overhaul RTD board will undergo changes following pushback

The legislation proposed cutting the number of people serving on RTD's board
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Posted at 6:55 PM, Apr 23, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-23 20:56:19-04

DENVER — This year’s legislative session is winding down but lawmakers still have plenty on their plates, including finding ways to build more affordable housing near transit. State Rep. Meg Froelich said for that to work, the public transit system must be reliable for Coloradans who would move into such housing.

“We need that robust transit,” Froelich said.

But she said RTD isn’t reliable right now for too many people.

“It does work for some, but it doesn't work for others,” said Froelich. “We're hearing safety concerns. We're hearing missed routes, canceled routes, or just the general inability of folks to get from A to B, particularly commuters.”

Annual ridership for the Regional Transportation District (RTD) still hasn’t recovered following the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the district.

In 2023, RTD saw 65 million boardings compared to 61 million in 2022. But that’s still down 38% compared to 2019 when it recorded 105 million boardings.

"I'm just hearing, "It doesn't work for me and I don't feel safe,"” said Froelich.

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With the governor's backing, Froelich introduced House Bill 24-1447, which would reduce the number of people serving on RTD’s board.

Right now, 15 elected members serve. Beginning in 2027, RTD would be governed by a 10-member board, which would include seven voting members and three non-voting members.

The board would consist of members elected by voters and others appointed by either the governor, Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) executive director or Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG).

Froelich said smaller boards have been effective in other cities.

“There's an idea that across the nation what we see [are] really effective boards being somewhere in the seven-to-nine-member range,” said Froelich.

That idea, however, quickly went off the rails. Several transit advocates came out against it, raising concerns, including its potential impact on underserved neighborhoods.

“It is not clear what problems are being solved by HB24-1447,” said RTD Director Erik Davidson, who also serves as chair of the board’s executive committee.

RTD’s board of directors opposes the bill. Davidson said lawmakers didn't get enough input from stakeholders.

“This move not only bypasses the democratic process but also does so without comprehensive public outreach, which would be necessary for such a significant change,” said Davidson.

RTD’s board members said changing the structure of the board won’t improve things. However, they said more funding would help tremendously. Froelich said lawmakers are looking at additional funding streams.

“We absolutely agree additional funding has to go to transit,” said Froelich.

Froelich agrees lawmakers should have had more input and said the parts of the bill that address the RTD board are being taken out and will be studied further. She hopes the rest of the bill, which focuses on increasing regional cooperation, will stay on track.

Shelby Wieman, press secretary for Gov. Jared Polis, said the bill represents a step in the right direction.

“This bill is a step toward giving RTD and other transit agencies more tools to provide the convenient, reliable, and improved service Coloradans deserve,” Wieman said. “It is about starting towards accountability, reform, and doing what’s right for Coloradans, and opening the door for significant new state investment. In addition to beginning the process of governance reform, the bill opens the door to new opportunities for transit-oriented development.”

The bill is set to be taken up in the House Transportation Committee next Tuesday.

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