The A Line worked just fine on Tuesday, but RTD was riding the struggle bus, like many of its customers, because five trains hit a snag in the above cables that needed to be repaired.
Still, RTD spokesperson Nate Currey stopped by 9NEWS for an interview with Next with Kyle Clark – one day after Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan slammed RTD for not doing enough to promote the R Line before proposing a cut to service because of small ridership. The same goes for the W Line that runs from Union Station to Jefferson County.
KC: Why is RTD so bad at predicting ridership?
NC: We’re not actually … On the University of Colorado A Line, we’re spot on, and it’s actually exceeded that now. All of the rest of them are pretty much there. There are specific factors with the W Line and with the R Line that have commonality, that have produced a lower number than we would have hoped for, that we initially projected. Those projections are based off of the initial plans and those plans changed.
KC: I think that everybody understands that numbers might be off by a little bit? But when we’re talking about the R Line in Aurora, that train is like a scene from the Walking Dead. Like there aren’t live people in sight. And your projection was more than double what you’re seeing there. How is it that far off?
NC: The honest answer to that is the original line was going to go straight up I-225. It was going to go straight up through the hospital. At the hospital’s request, at Aurora’s request, we didn’t go through the hospital and we did this horseshoe around the city center. It’s going to be a good economic development for Aurora. When you add deviants like that it adds travel time, and frankly, travel time is one of the most impactful things people take into consideration…
Currey says the train is sustainable even with cuts. If capacity on the R Line warrants, RTD could add back service if necessary, as they’ve done before.
As far as Mayor Hogan, Currey was surprised by his comments:
NC: It’s unfortunate he feels this way about us. I think we’ve been very good partners- we’ve been transparent with Aurora with that. And our process is, our staff makes a recommendation, we go out to the public for feedback, they make a final recommendation, and then our elected board votes on that. So they take all that into consideration.
Right now, the process is, tomorrow, the public participation starts. And we take that really seriously. We expect and hope that a lot of people come out and give feedback. More importantly, though, it matters more than just giving feedback. We want people in Aurora to ride the train. So, if you’re really concerned about it, figure out how to use it. Get out there and ride it. Increase those numbers.
Currey says that while Aurora is a good partner, that overall, municipalities expect RTD to go it alone, in terms of encouraging people to ride public transportation.
NC: Where we are today, financially, and everybody knows this – over the next 10 to 15 years, we’re going to be tight, and we can’t do it alone anymore. So we have to have their participation, their partnership. If they want the success of the R Line, just as much as we do, they need to be out there promoting it with us … Our job at RTD is to move people. We’re a mobility agency. We’re not an economic development agency. We’re not a redevelopment agency for property. Our job is just to move people. So to somehow imply that what we’re doing, by being good stewards of our resources in a regional perspective, might impact a large corporation’s decision to move a second headquarters here – is a little disingenuous, I think.
Currey’s reference Hogan’s comments on Amazon, in which he said that Denver’s pitching that the area has a strong transit system, all while it cuts service.
NC: “If we have 50,000 jobs that are over $100,000 each, we will be happy to add more trains as that population warrants.”
And what about the A and G Lines? The G Line can’t begin operations until the feds clear the A Line for approval.
KC: What are we looking at now?
NC: It’s most likely not going to be this year. We’re hoping to hear back from the Federal Railroad Administration. We applied to begin full testing again to get that finished up, but the major components have been tested (on the G Line) … The University of Colorado A Line and B Line are at the finish line, as well. So as soon as those two are wrapped up, we should be able to get that full testing done, and then we’re hopefully looking at the next half-year (for the start of the G Line).
KC: Are you guys within striking distance now of getting the A Line approved and getting it in a good place?
NC: Yeah. We’re hoping to hear back on some final word from the feds this week, and then the Public Utilities Commission, locally…
KC: Once you get the sign-off from the FRA, then you can hopefully start getting some of these crossings approved, then we’re talking about quiet zones. What’s a realistic timeframe, knowing we’re looking well down the road for quiet on the A Line?
Once approval comes from the PUC and FRA…
NC: We’re looking at 3 to 6 months on the optimistic side…
Adding that hiccups could add a month or two, each time they happen, as they happen.