For Dana Woodward, riding the bus means independence. “I don’t drive. So it helps me get around town for doctor’s appointments, movies, getting lunch with friends, the farmer’s market in Boulder. All that kind of fun stuff.”
Woodward has been riding the bus for 32 years and she shares her encyclopedic knowledge of the bus routes with her niece, KGNU’s Julia Caulfield. “It took about a month and a half to learn all the bus routes…All the ones in Boulder. Like the DASH, the 225, the 209, the 203, the 203 now is no longer, the 203 is now the 225, and the 203 used to go to the East Boulder Rec Center, and they discontinued it, and just made it into the 225.”
Being transit dependent – someone with no other transportation options – Woodward has no choice but to pay for a bus pass every month. “Each month they have a disability pass, and it costs me $85, you know a month, to ride the bus. And I ride the bus I think about 5-6 times a day. Because it’s my main transportation.”
But for someone on a fixed income, $85 is still a lot of money each month.
“No, it’s a lot better than paying a hundred and some odd dollars. And it’s for all the zones. You know, it’s for the light rail, this will take me to the airport, you know, on the light rail. I can go to the zoo. I can go up to Nederland. You know, I can go anywhere, otherwise sometimes, you have to pay a little extra money…”
“But it’s kinda nice because you have the disability pass also. It helps out quite a bit.”
Woodward says that while people with disabilities are often very dependent on public transportation, it’s not always easy for them to ride the bus.
“There’s two seats for wheelchairs, and sometimes it’s crowded, and somebody might have a buggie also, like a grocery cart, so you have to walk back a little bit further, and it’s kinda hard when you’re kinda like, tired at the end of the day. So they need, just a little bit more room for wheelchairs, and people with canes and stuff because this seat comes up also, so that way it’s not that much room to get through everything.”
Listen to Julia Caulfield and Dana Woodward riding the bus in Boulder here:
Despite Woodward getting a disability discount bus pass, it still takes a chunk out of her monthly fixed income. And she is not alone, those who depend the most on public transit are often paying the most for it. Chris Stiffler, an economist with the Colorado Fiscal Institute says that while RTD offers some discounts, there are not enough programs for those who need it. “A lot of their discounts actually benefit upper-income travelers.” Stiffler says free parking at regional bus stops is an example of this, as people who ride regional buses tend to be higher income transit riders.
Other discount programs like the eco-pass, also tend to benefit upper-income passengers as they are often distributed through large companies. “The design is the bigger the company the bigger the discount, so the people who do have eco-passes are most likely to be upper-income employees. McDonalds are not giving eco-passes to their minimum wage employees.”
Stiffler says that bulk-buying or monthly and annual passes are also not available to a lot of low-income transit-dependent riders. “People who avail themselves of bulk buying have the money to pay for the monthly pass on January 1, or have the money to pay $25 or so for a ten ride ticket. If you look at the surveys that RTD does, most low-income, transit-dependent riders pay cash fares. They don’t even have the $23 to pay for the 10 ride tickets that would save them 50 cents a day, because it’s hard to scratch up $25 right away. Low-income transit-dependent folk end up paying cash each ride which ends up being more expensive.”
In 2016 the CFI published Ticket to Thrive, a report on how to make fares more equitable.