Denver Development

Ten Problems With RTD's Trains

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5. Announcements
Every so often — which is too often — the recorded “stop” language of the trains will get off-cycle, and the wrong stop will be announced. It's not a huge problem if you’re a longtime rider of light rail and know your stop, but it's seriously confusing if you’re new to that route (or worse, a visitor to the city). Would it really be so hard to have the train operator actively call out stops, as they do on subways in other metropolitan cities?

4. Free Rides
I’ve been riding the light-rail lines for over a year now, and I have been asked exactly three times to show my pass. This includes both low-population rides (like the D line from 30th and Downing to the Auraria campus in the late morning, when it’s me and maybe two other passengers in the whole car) and high-density rides (the E line back from a Fiddler’s Green concert, when it’s standing-room only). What this has produced is a system that is ripe for abuse and effectively free. The handful of times that I’ve seen an officer board a train in order to check tickets, there has always been a sudden exodus of passengers at the same stop. Some of those people — at least some — are getting off the train because they don’t have tickets to show, and it's safe to assume that they’ll just wait for the next train, re-board, and go on their merry ticketless ways. 

3. Police Presence
Ensuring that people pay for their ride is the job of police officers, oddly. Instead of hiring conductors to take tickets, RTD depends on cops to ask for tickets or passes in random fashion, which is clearly not working (and has to be one of the shittiest duties to which a Denver cop can be assigned). The police on these routes are overworked and too busy…and that leads to our next point.

2. A Complete Inattention to Rules
With this remarkably low police presence, the trains are on a sort of law-abiding and etiquette honors system. If you’ve been on light rail recently, for example, you’ve seen the signs everywhere that say riders are not supposed to put their feet on the seats. And really, it’s a good rule; no one wants to sit in the place where someone just wiped their feet. But as with all rules on the trains, it’s completely up to you whether you want to obey.  The same goes for loud music, or not blocking the aisles, or arguments that end in knife-play. It’s like Lord of the Flies, except no one’s holding the conch.

1. Communication
Many of the digital signs currently up at the train stops show what’s supposed to happen with the arriving train, not what is actually happening. This isn’t helpful communication; it’s adding insult to injury. (We know the damn train is supposed to be here at 4:27, but it’s not, and we’re waiting — so it would be helpful to know when it’s actually going to arrive.) Associated with this very basic signage issue is a complete inability on the part of RTD to notify passengers waiting for a train that for some reason that train isn’t coming; no warnings pop up on the ticketing terminals, on the signage at the stop, or anywhere else. This is unconscionable, especially given Denver weather in the winter and the technologies available to RTD. Even a simple loudspeaker at every stop to allow messages to be communicated verbally would help — and that was invented by Alexander Graham Freakin’ Bell. It might be a good goal for RTD to catch up to the nineteenth century, at the very least.
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Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.
Contact: Teague Bohlen