RTD board approves 15 percent fare increase

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DENVER -- The RTD Board of Directors voted, 11-1, on Tuesday night to increase bus and train fares by 15 percent, the first major increase RTD has had in five years. The increases will go into effect Jan. 1.

On Tuesday, hundreds of people and several nonprofit groups voiced opposition to the proposed changes. For many, the RTD train and bus lines are lifelines.

"I work and I can't afford a lot of things," said Rachel Campbell, a mother who is forced to live in a shelter because of her low-paying job. "I don't want them to raise the price because I need it for my children. I need it for me to go see him."

Campbell is far from alone. According to the Colorado Fiscal Institute, 27 percent of RTD riders make less than $15,000 a year and more than half are considered low income.

But according to RTD, a fare increase is overdue and needed to keep up with inflation along with next year's rail and service expansion to Denver International Airport and beyond.

"It's a balancing act between making our budget work and continuing to provide the service that people expect," RTD spokeswoman Tina Jaquez said.

Highlights of the new fare structure include:

*15 percent increase on one-way trips on buses and trains (from $2.25 to $2.60).

*25 percent increase in the cost of a monthly pass (from $79 to $99).

*New all-day pass for $5.20, which will replace paper transfers and allow unlimited rides for the price of a round-trip fare.

*25 cent discount per fare for people who use new pass cards, which will roll out in 2016.

"We are definitely working with nonprofit groups to look at how we can maybe offer a lower discounted rate to low income passengers," Jaquez said.

RTD's nonprofit pass program paid for about 3.5 million rides last year, but that covered less than 10 percent of people who qualify. Until a better program is unveiled, several nonprofits, including 9to5 Colorado, won’t support the fare change.

"They're going to be doing this vote that's going to affect thousands of people and an income-based pass is still not on the table," said Andrea Chiriboga-Flor, a spokeswoman for 9to5 Colorado.

If an income-based pass doesn't happen, Campbell doesn't want to think about the consequences.

"I could lose my job, not be able to make doctor’s appointments and may not get to see my children," Campbell said.

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