More big changes are coming to the Regional Transportation District's bus and rail service as the agency continues to adjust to the coronavirus pandemic.
Starting Sunday, April 5, RTD will suspend fare collection on all buses and trains until further notice, and switch to rear-door boarding on most buses. The move follows similar actions taken by many other transit systems across the country in response to the outbreak, and comes after pressure from boardmembers, transit advocates and the RTD operators' union to take greater precautions to protect drivers.
RTD came to the decision after discussions with its safety consultant this week, according to the April 3 announcement of the changes: "RTD officials received a recommendation from the consultant that RTD institute rear-door boarding based on emerging COVID-19 conditions and the potential for transmission of the disease to operators. Rear-door boarding provides for distance between operators and the public, mitigating known circumstances of infection — namely, close proximity to those who might be infected."
People with disabilities will still be able to board at front-door wheelchair lifts, and regional buses like the Flatiron Flyer, which don't have rear doors, will continue operating as normal.
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RTD will also suspend service on its two free downtown shuttles, the MallRide and MetroRide, which have seen low ridership during the outbreak. MallRide buses, which feature an enclosed compartment that separates drivers from passengers, will be redeployed to regular routes to maximize protections for drivers.
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The emergency measures are the latest in a rapid series of changes that have come to RTD services since ridership and revenues began to plummet last month. Under an emergency service plan approved by RTD's board of directors on March 24, bus and rail operations will move to a weekend schedule full-time between April and September, though officials are hopeful that some or all of that service could be restored sooner than that.
The agency got some welcome news this week when it received $232 million in emergency aid from a federal relief bill, giving it a much-needed financial lifeline as it seeks to continue paying operators and provide a transportation option for essential workers.
RTD is urging passengers to use caution and maintain safe physical distancing while riding buses and trains during the outbreak — and to "use judgment" about whether to board a bus or train with too many people on it. In addition to performing daily vehicle cleanings, the agency says it's monitoring passenger loads and working to redeploy available buses if particular routes are becoming crowded.
“It’s important that we be strategic and practical in our operational changes, not reactionary," RTD interim general manager Paul Ballard said in the statement on the new measures. "Our team will continue to monitor information as it emerges, be nimble and make decisions that we deem to be the most prudent and responsible.”