Denver public transportation according to a radio host, a councilperson, and the owners of a bike shop and a cafe

Would you feel comfortable walking three blocks to a bus stop at midnight? Councilwoman Mary Beth Susman wouldn’t.

Four people talk transportation. (Courtesy Photos)
Four people talk transportation. (Courtesy Photos)
Four people talk transportation. (Courtesy Photos)

Would you feel comfortable walking three blocks to a bus stop at midnight? Councilwoman Mary Beth Susman wouldn’t.

Have you been offered a light rail beer? Channel 93.3 DJ Bailey has.

Public transportation is many different things to many different people, but how we feel about it is actually important. Some research suggests that perception of a system can have an impact as big as actual service quality. 

Then there’s the whole money thing. Sales tax revenue, which provides 59 percent of RTD’s operating budget, hasn’t been as high as expected. The next biggest share of the budget are fares, representing 22 percent of RTD’s funding.

So to some extent, to address the system’s shortcomings — infrequent service, not enough routes — we have to ride them out. That gets even more complicated when you consider that Denver doesn’t have a robust transit culture.

So how do we build it? Let’s start looking at the top, with people who lead communities around Denver.

Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Bailey, music director and host at Channel 93.3

(Courtesy of Bailey at Channel 93.3)
(Courtesy of Bailey at Channel 93.3)

When’s the last time you used public transportation?

I used the light rail… whatever the first opening game for the Broncos was this year. So Sept. 8.

How was it? What do you remember?

It was good. However, the train did break down on the way. So we did have to get off the train and wait for another one to come and then get on that one and go. But even with that, it was fine. Got my little seat, and sometimes I was standing. But either way, it was fine.

People were chatting. Some people even brought their own alcohol on the train and were passing that around to the other passengers. They did offer it to me, but I didn’t take any, just because I’m a little sketched out by public [consumption]. I’m kind of a germaphobe.

What do you use public transit for?

Games and concerts. I recently moved to the Tech Center area. When I lived downtown, I definitely utilized it much more than I do now, just because of the convenience factor of everything.

What would get you to use it more?

I’m pretty happy with my current system. I will say… knowing the train times, making that a bit easier to figure out. When I look at the maps of the times and everything and the different routes, it’s like looking at a foreign language.

Gregory Crichlow, owner of Chocolate Spokes Bike Studio

Gregory Crichlow, Gabi Tobar, TJ Gill at Chocolate Spokes (Courtesy of Gregory Crichlow; photo by Jessica Grenier)
Gregory Crichlow, Gabi Tobar, TJ Gill at Chocolate Spokes (Courtesy of Gregory Crichlow; photo by Jessica Grenier)

When’s the last time you used public transportation?

I rode Flatirons Flyer last week. We rode our bikes down to Union Station. It’s now every 15 minutes, so that’s really nice, not to have to completely plan your day out even though you can catch the bus fairly often.

How was it? What do you remember?

The trip was pretty easy and straightforward. It was quite full when we took it so that was good to see that people are actually using the service.

I graduated from Boulder in ’95 and I believe at that time it was called the AB or the AA or something. It did its job but sometimes it could be just dreadful and cumbersome. All the stops were way off the highway and then if you caught a local and not an express, it would just take forever. Now it’s kind of nice to just see the infrastructure where they just pull off a bit, pick up, drop and keep going. I’ve seen that system evolve quite a bit.

What do you use public transit for?

I use it every week. I don’t have a car. It’s pretty incorporated into what we do.

For instance, I sometimes will take my son to the ice rink at DU. So we’ll take from our house around 32nd and Race all the way to University and Buchtel, so we take the 24 quite often. I’ll take the Flatirons Flyer quite often, every time I go into Boulder. If I have to travel, as of recently, we’ve been using the train because we’re located on the north side of Denver, so that’s an easy option for us to get to the airport.

What would get you to use it more?

Our local buses are still — their schedules are a little bit hit or miss, I think. For instance, I said I take my son to the ice rink, but sometimes we have to go at 6 in the morning on a Saturday, or we have to get there at 6, and the buses don’t start until 6:30. So at that point we either have to use a Car2go or some other alternative. It’s still not as robust as it could be.

And I think once it gets to that point, then I think a lot more people would use it because then they rely on just going out there and picking something up.

Anything else?

What I would say to other people is that we’re a car culture here in Denver. And so a lot of people don’t really think that public transportation is a valid means, they’d rather just get in their car. Once you try it, it’s so much easier.

Megyn Rodgers, owner of the Molecule Effect

(Courtesy Megyn Rodgers)
(Courtesy Megyn Rodgers)

When’s the last time you used public transportation?

Last time I used the light rail was probably about 2 months ago. I was going down toward Littleton, Old Town Littleton.

Why? 

Well, partially because I enjoy the experience of it. I don’t have to pay attention to the road and it just helps with traffic and gas and all of that. To me, it’s convenient if I can use it.

How was it? What do you remember?

Passengers weren’t really chatty, it wasn’t really that crowded. The only time that I’ve actually seen the light rail crowded is when there’s a game. Other than that, it’s really easy to get on and off. Wasn’t loud. And everyone is cordial.

What do you use public transit for?

I wish I used it more.

If Mark and I are going out, we’ll use public transportation. We like it, we like going out just with the public. Just saving money on gas and again, just having the experience. I know this probably sounds weird, but there is a certain kind of feel that when you’re on public transportation versus when you’re driving around in your car all the time. I just feel like I’m more in a city and more of an urban setting when I’m on public transportation.

I usually use my car if I’m running errands for the shop, but other than that, we’ll use the bus to go downtown or take the light rail to go downtown or go to Old Town Littleton or the airport. I don’t use it as often as I probably could.

What would get you to use it more?

It would probably be just me planning. It really comes down to myself. I come from Chicago and that’s all I used in Chicago. It’s tight getting on the elevated train. Out here, I feel like it’s really easy to use and definitely affordable, I just need to plan better. I feel like the schedules are really good for public transportation, at least when I use it.

I’m at the shop almost seven days a week and I’m running errands. Most of those are supplies, so it’s hard for me to carry a lot of supplies on public transportation because they’re boxes of cups, alcohol, so that’s what makes it challenging.

Mary Beth Susman, Denver City Councilwoman

Mary Beth Susman. (Courtesy of Denver Government)
Mary Beth Susman. (Courtesy of Denver Government)

When’s the last time you used public transportation?

Labor Day, but I was in New York. I rode subways.

I haven’t really taken transit in Denver, I’d say, for a year. I tried out the A Line, but it wasn’t because I needed to go to the airport.

How about the last trip you remember?

About 2 years ago, I took a dare from the editor of the Park Hill News to go a week without a car with no warning. … I made a journal and she made an article about it, that was really eye opening. I took buses, I took Uber, I took Car2Go, I used my bike, I used my feet. It was quite an experience.

I was going down to work, I took a number 6 bus that dropped me off and then coming back I rode it home.

One of the funny things I saw was a guy reading Shakespeare. So I said that the only weird thing I saw was a guy voluntarily reading Shakespeare. I saw this darling mother at the bus stop, she had two little kids, I could just imagine trying to do transit with two little kids, and she had bubbles for them to keep them entertained. Just watching people with the problems of getting strollers on the bus.

What would get you to use public transportation more?

Perfect question, since I’m working on getting better transit. I asked myself, “What will get me out of my car?” It has to be almost as convenient as a car, less expensive.

The thing I’m trying to bring into Denver is called microtransit. It’s a van that works like an Uber does, where you call this 13 passenger van and there’s this company that I’m trying to bring into Denver, and it uses big data from our phones and other sources about movement in a city and it tells you to go stand here and it has popup bus stops, and it finds 9, 10, 11 other people who are going where you’re going. … They promise not more than a 5 minute walk, and it takes you directly to where you’re going. … In Boston, it costs about 5 or 6 bucks, but Kansas City, its pilot project is subsidizing it, it cost a $1.50. If I could call a van of 12 or 13 people and it costs me $1.50 to get to work, I’d say adios, car.

So does that mean the path forward is outside of RTD?

It might be. Because RTD has the mission for regional transportation and it may be that we need to have some kind of agency that looks towards transit within a city.

If it’s been a year since you used public transit, what makes you equipped to work on transportation issues, then?

Well, because I want to have a convenient inexpensive way to get to work and get around from work. …

Our bus system, the buses don’t come often enough, they have routes that I might have to walk too far to get at night. If I have to go home after council meetings, they’re over at midnight, I’m not sure I want to walk in dark for 3 blocks to pick up a bus.

I feel sometimes like I’m my own guinea pig — what is it that’s going to get me to take transit? So that’s what I think about all the time, what kind of transit do I need that will get me to the grocery store, that will get me to the 24 Hour Fitness, which is kind of ironic, isn’t it? A third of people in the United States can’t drive, so what do we do about those people? Are we serving them well?

It’s a good question, I don’t take transit, so why do I get to talk about it? I think I get to talk about it because I don’t take transit. What’s it going to take for me to take transit?