2024 – The year of transit in Colorado

The Colorado legislature passed three bills that will significantly increase investments in buses and trains across Colorado, expanding travel options and putting us on a path for more people to ride transit.

A Fort Collins MAX Bus Rapid Transit bus

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2024 really is the year of transit.

The legislature stepped up in 2024 with three bills that combine to make major investments and expand bus and rail options across Colorado.

The bills are SB24-184, SB24-230 and SB24-032.

Let’s start with the big number.

 

$170 million.

That’s the estimated amount of new money that will be coming in every year for transit.

The number will fluctuate from year to year but here’s the breakdown:

  • Approximately $60 million will be raised via a $3 rental car fee.
  • Approximately $110 million will be raised via a new fee on oil and gas

This is a significant increase. 

The only other major investment in transit by the state was from a 2021 Senate Bill (SB21-260) that pumped a one-time infusion of $105 million into transit in 2022. But those dollars plummeted afterwards and will average only about $17 million per year for the next decade.

Funding from 2024’s legislative action will be ten times bigger than the state funding we already had.

CDOT's Bustang bus Staff | TPIN
Durangogov.org/transit | Used by permission
The train is one transit option to Denver International Airport. RTD | Used by permission

Trains and buses, statewide and local

The new dollars will be focused in a couple of ways.

Approximately $60 million will support statewide systems like:

  • Front Range Passenger Rail from Trinidad and Pueblo up through Colorado Springs and Denver to Fort Collins
  • Mountain rail from Denver up through Winter Park to Steamboat Springs and Craig
  • Expanding Bustang, the state’s growing inter-city bus program

Approximately $110 million will support local and regional services. This money is divided up further:

  • Seventy percent will focus on operations and service with an emphasis on maximizing ridership. This money will be allocated via a formula developed by the state’s Clean Transit Enterprise.
  • Ten percent will be part of a competitive grant that can support transit capital or operations.
  • Twenty percent will be dedicated to expanding passenger rail.

These dollars can jumpstart a significant increase in transit. 

The carve-out for operational dollars is particularly important. In the transportation world, money tends to come in big chunks one year and then nothing for a few years. This cycle can work when you are building stuff and mostly need capital dollars. But transit needs consistent, ongoing operational dollars.

The commitment by the state to fund operations means transit agencies can, for the first time ever, rely on state money to operate new routes or improve the frequency of the routes they have.

It’s also critical that for all of these dollars the legislative intent is to increase ridership and decrease vehicle miles traveled. That’s important because ridership is the measure of success for transit, demonstrating the system is truly a high quality option, taking people where they want to go, getting them there when they want to get there and coming frequently enough that it’s reliable.

A transit system that provides good options that results in high ridership:

  • Reduces greenhouse gas emissions – Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution in Colorado and the sector that is the furthest behind in meeting the state’s 2025 climate targets.
  • Reduces ozone pollution – Transportation is one of the most significant source of ozone pollutants, which fuel our decades long dirty air summers that threaten the health of residents in too many parts of the state.
  • Improves safety — Traveling by public transit is ten times safer per mile than traveling by automobile. This is especially critical in Colorado since traffic fatalities have been on the rise, hitting a 40-year high in 2022.
  • Saves people money — Public transit offers an opportunity for people to save money. For example, Denver’s RTD monthly pass is $88 while the cost to own and operate the average car is over $800 per month, and nearly $1,000 for new vehicles.
  • Expands accessibility — 20 to 40% of people in any given community cannot, should not, or prefer not to drive because they’re seniors, adolescents, people with disabilities, or cannot afford it. Without viable options other than driving, these residents will continue to struggle to access jobs and other opportunities, as well as basic services like medical appointments.

 

 

SMART | Used by permission
RTD bus during Zero Fare August
An RTD bus in Denver during Zero Fare August 2022 Staff | TPIN
RTD | Public Domain
A green Fort Collins MAX Bus Rapid Transit bus at a stop.
A Fort Collins MAX Bus Rapid Transit bus ID 44771718 © Marek Uliasz | Dreamstime.com | Used by permission

More focus on transit solutions

Other pieces of this bill package include:

  • Ensuring our state’s transportation investment office, CTIO, funds greenhouse gas-reducing projects like transit to meet the Colorado Department of Transportation’s climate change goals. This is particularly important because CTIO is in charge of the toll money raised via our state’s growing managed lanes program. This closes a loophole that would have allowed tens of millions of dollars to be spent without complying with pollution reduction strategies.
  • Directing state transit money to fund either a youth or ozone zero-fare program for local agencies. In the Denver metro area alone, transit ridership jumped 22% (about 1 million additional rides) during the first year of its ozone zero-fare program in 2022.
  • Requiring transit agencies to submit their service plans so the public can see how the money is being used to expand service. There is an even higher bar for RTD, the Denver area’s transit agency, including requirements for more transparency around budgets, capital plans and ridership on routes.   
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Authors

Danny Katz

Executive Director, CoPIRG

Danny has been the director of CoPIRG for over a decade. Danny co-authored a groundbreaking report on the state’s transit, walking and biking needs and is a co-author of the annual “State of Recycling” report. He also helped write a 2016 Denver initiative to create a public matching campaign finance program and led the early effort to eliminate predatory payday loans in Colorado. Danny serves on the Colorado Department of Transportation's (CDOT) Efficiency and Accountability Committee, CDOT's Transit and Rail Advisory Committee, RTD's Reimagine Advisory Committee, the Denver Moves Everyone Think Tank, and the I-70 Collaborative Effort. Danny lobbies federal, state and local elected officials on transportation electrification, multimodal transportation, zero waste, consumer protection and public health issues. He appears frequently in local media outlets and is active in a number of coalitions. He resides in Denver with his family, where he enjoys biking and skiing, the neighborhood food scene and raising chickens.

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