Group works to expand free bus service for Denver high school students

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DENVER -- Low-income students and their families are demanding Denver Public Schools and the Regional Transportation District do more to give free bus passes to students in need.

Members of Together Colorado, a community action group representing the families, said the school district has the money to get the job done.

High school students in Denver routinely use RTD buses because they aren't given the option to ride a traditional school bus.

On Wednesday, high school student Rogelio Munoz-Vargas and his sister sat on a familiar bench along Martin Luther King Boulevard, a place where they depend on RTD buses to further their educations.

“Because we go to a charter school, we can’t have those free bus passes,” Rogelio said.

Many of their public school peers are battling the same issue, according to Together Colorado.

“This is about expanding opportunities,” Meghan Carrier of Together Colorado said. “There is money in the system to buy an existing product.”

Thousands of high school students who are not served by DPS buses qualify for free RTD passes through the school district. But Together Colorado believes there are just as many students who don’t qualify and are in need.

A request to DPS for exact numbers was not answered as of late Wednesday. Activists warn the 50 percent to 75 percent discount offered by RTD isn’t enough for some families. But change could be coming.

“We’re in discussions with Denver Public Schools’ superintendent, with the mayor’s office -- and really just identifying the challenges that they have,” RTD spokesman Nate Currey said.

Currey said RTD is studying the issue, hoping to find a solution. But he added RTD is strapped for cash.

Meanwhile, Together Colorado wants the school district to use available funds to get the job done. The community organizing group said what’s needed is commitment between RTD and DPS.

“They’re not really saying yes -- they’re not really saying no,” said Rogelio. “That’s what we’re really trying to push for -- RTD’s commitment to this.”

Rogelio and his sister said a commitment can’t happen soon enough. The duo talked about friends who often have to choose between buying a bus ticket or breakfast. They said some of their friends ask for money at school to pay for bus rides.

RTD does not have an estimate on how long studying the issue will take. Together Colorado is asking people to call RTD board members to encourage it to fast-track a solution.