Great Moments in RTD's Fifty-Year History

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The Regional Transportation District is turning fifty and wants to celebrate. Instead of issuing every rider a party hat and kazoo (though that would clearly have been the more fun option), RTD is touting five decades of service through a couple of events in early July:

There will be limited-quantity giveaways on Monday, July 1 (plan to arrive early, as “giveaways will go fast,” RTD warns), across the metro area and at the following stations and times:

  • 6:30-8:30 a.m.: Littleton/Mineral; U.S. 36 & Broomfield; U.S. 36 & Sheridan; Thornton Park-n-Ride; Olde Town Arvada Park-n-Ride and garage; Federal Center; Bergen Park Park-n-Ride; and U.S. 36 & Table Mesa Park-n-Ride.
  • 4-6 p.m.: I-25 & Broadway; 40th Ave. & Airport Blvd.-Gateway Park; Sheridan; Englewood; Nine Mile; Iliff; and Lincoln.

On Friday, July 12, RTD wants passengers to “break out the bell bottoms and tie-dye” for a fiftieth-anniversary party from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with a celebration on the plaza in front of Union Station. The event will feature RTD information booths (wooo!), food trucks, “rockin’ tunes” from 1969, noted speakers, and other family-friendly activities. And cake, one would presume? Please let there be cake.

Westword wants to congratulate RTD on its half-century of service by offering up this short list of the top ten most notable moments in its history. And also this piece of advice: cake.
1969: RTD Is Born
The year 1969 saw a lot of great stuff: the Moon landing, Woodstock and the debut of a little show called Sesame Street. Oh, and Denver’s RTD was established, naming John Fleming Kelly as the first chairman of its board of directors. The estimated budget for Year One? About $170K, which would pay for one bus these days.

1972: Transportation Plan Completed
What were buses doing from 1969 to 1972? Just wandering the streets of Denver at random? Not quite. Back then, the bus system was still run by the old Denver Tramway Company, which at one time provided streetcar service to much of the city — something fondly remembered by those opposed to the fossil-fuel monopoly on transportation and your elderly neighbor down the street.

Tramway Motor Coach Division, circa 1941
Tramway Motor Coach Division, circa 1941

1974: RTD Consolidates
By 1974, the Denver Tramway Company (by then Denver Metro Transit) sold to RTD, which also acquired Evergreen Transit, Longmont Mini, Englewood-Littleton-Ft. Logan Service, Boulder City, Public Service and Northglenn Suburban Service to cover more territory under a single company’s auspices. It simplified transit between areas in metro Denver, extended routes and lowered fares.

1975: RTD Services Called “The Ride”
Rebranding was simpler in 1975. Rejected slogans for RTD’s services included “The Mile-High Soul Train,” “Keep on Bussin’” and “The Broncos Giddy-Up," which are all much better than what it would be called today, “Bussy McBusface," by the crowdsourced online naming committee.

1979: RTD Introduces Tokens
And by 2013, they would be gone, available only on eBay for those nostalgic for things we used to curse because they made us think that we had a spare quarter for the soda machine. These days, fares are available on your phone. Like everything else.

16th Street circa 1933.
16th Street circa 1933.

1982: 16th Street Mall Opens
In October 1982, the pedestrian mall (designed by world-famous architect I.M. Pei) and the Free Mall Ride both opened for business, welcomed with open arms by 200,000 Denver citizens and approximately triple that number of panhandlers and street performers.

1994: The Dawn of Denver Light Rail
After being approved by voters back in 1987, the first light-rail line — the D Line, which connected 30th and Downing to I-25 and Broadway — began service. This line would be largely sidelined in early 2018, a move that saw service to the historic Welton corridor reduced to a single spur circling downtown.

2014: Union Station Is Reborn
Much like the ballyhooed openings of the Market Street and Civic Center stations (in 1983 and 1984, respectively), the rescuing, revitalization and eventual opening of Union Station marked a big change in how RTD interacted both visually and functionally with the public. And it did so in one of the most architecturally significant buildings in the city.

2016: The Saga of the Train to the Plane Begins
RTD’s vaunted A Line had the best of intentions: getting riders from Union Station to the far-flung Denver International Airport in only 37 minutes. And it does an admirable job…most of the time, if you don’t include lightning strikes, power loss, switching and signaling issues, the need to put crossing guards at every intersection and a host of other issues. And so was born a plethora of Westword articles…and a lot of customer response.

2019: RTD Turns Fifty
Even though it will immediately start getting letters from AARP, it still won’t qualify for its own senior fare.

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