31 days of free transit around Colorado

Every day of August, people can ride transit for free on more than 30 local transit systems. Free transit options range from the largest agency in the state to rural systems in the Eastern Plains and the southwest corner of Colorado. Check back here each week as we count down the month. I'll highlight different transit agencies that have zero fares. All aboard!

SMART

It’s here – a month of zero fares, where over thirty agencies are offering free rides on their trains, buses and shuttles, all day, every day of August.

The Zero Fare to Spare the Air program is designed to recruit more people to ride transit by waiving the fares, something eighteen transit agencies already do year round.

By recruiting more people to ride transit for free, and skip a trip with a car, we can reduce air pollution at a time of year when air quality alerts are all too common.

From the largest transit agency to some of the smallest, transit plays a critical role in our transportation system and the ability for Coloradans to be freer to pursue their own well-being as well as the common good.

Climb aboard as we countdown 31 days of free transit and look at where you can get a free ride across the state. 

CASTA (Colorado Association of Transit Agencies)
Day 1 - The 35 million mile system in Denver

The Regional Transportation District (RTD) is the largest transit agency in the state operating 35 million miles of fixed-route rail and bus service with over 50 million boardings annually.

Significantly boosting ridership on RTD’s system is critical for us to be able to hit any of our major regional goals from tackling climate change and air pollution to reducing unnecessary traffic deaths and cutting transportation costs.

I wrote about the need to use this month of free transit to build momentum for even bigger improvements here.

But even with its current service, there are some incredible places you can go via RTD service. 

For many people, the train (or bus) to the plane is how they experience transit. DIA is a top destination for locals and for people visiting us.

But you can also ride the rail to Fiddler’s Green to hear a concert or take the W line and local FlexRide bus to Golden for a float down Clear Creek.

The Flatiron Flyer bus system connects the region to communities along the US 36 corridor and into Boulder. From there you can hop on the N bus to Nederland and get into the mountains.

Colorful Colfax Ave, the longest street in America, is served by the 15 and 16 bus lines. Ride the 30 and 31 along fabulous Federal Blvd to the West Denver Night Market.

Tens of thousands of people in the region depend on the critical services RTD provides including Access-a-Ride and Access-on-Demand, a partnership with Uber.

Use RTD’s trip planner to get started planning your trip!

RTD
RTD Rail Commuters
Day 2 - Be SMART in Telluride

Sometimes your acronym just says it all – SMART.

The San Miguel Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) provides bus service in San Miguel County in the southwest corner of Colorado. It connects communities like Telluride and Mountain Village and the broader Telluride R-1 School District.

A big part of SMART’s service is providing good transit options for the region’s workforce.

Like many mountain towns, the lack of affordable housing options can push employees to live farther and commute longer.

SMART is one of the agencies that will be dropping fares for August thanks to the state legislature passing SB22-180 to fund free transit service across Colorado.

When asked what is most exciting about this month-long pilot program, SMART’s Executive Director pointed to the opportunity to recruit new riders and reward regular customers by helping them save some money.

SMART
SMART transit operations
Day 3 - Enjoy the park without the car with Estes Transit

Offering free rides is not new for Estes Transit. They’ve been doing it since 2006 when they were known as the “Shopper Shuttle.”

I learned even more about this transit system in some email back and forth with staff at the Town of Estes Park.

  • The system covers all the commercial corridors in the summer, including service to the YMCA of the Rockies
  • The downtown Red Route is a battery-electric trolley (the only one of its kind in service in Colorado)
  • On summer weekends and into early fall (leaf peeping anyone?), you can connect to Estes Transit via Bustang running from Denver through Boulder and Lyons

So why has Estes Park had a robust, free service for years?

They get millions of visitors a year, which could mean a lot of cars, which would require lots of parking pressure and congested roads.

They’re tackling the problem by creating easy ways to ditch the car and hop on their shuttles. 

Fewer cars also brings important environmental benefits to this beautiful mountain community.

There is really no excuse to climb aboard the next time you are in town!

Estes Transit
Estes Transit Trolley
Day 4 - Taking the Tramway in Black Hawk and Central City

The Black Hawk and Central City Tramway has provided free bus service since 1991.

The shuttles connect the casinos and historic sites in the cities of Black Hawk and Central City. This zero fare program is made possible year round thanks to support from the casinos.

Black Hawk and Central City, like so many other mountain communities, get a lot of visitors but don’t have a lot of space. So free local transit service encourages people to leave their cars at home, or at least parked when they are traveling in the area. 

When you ride the shuttles, you’ll see they lean into their past with historical panels, photos and quotes at their stops.

Besides the casinos, Central City also hosts the fifth oldest professional opera company in the country.

BHCC Tramway
Black Hawk and Central City transit vehicle
Day 5 - An affordable transportation option in Durango

Durango Transit offers multiple routes in this city of nearly 20,000 in the southwest corner of Colorado.

They are one of sixteen agencies dropping their fares on all routes including connections to Fort Lewis College and the Opportunity Bus, a paratransit service for seniors and people with disabilities.

According to a recent ridership survey in 2021, the top benefit people reported of Durango Transit was “affordability” followed by “an option for all abilities and ages.”

The leading reason for using transit was “shopping” followed by “work” then “social.”

In terms of who is using the service, 53% are daily riders and 49% are under 40. 

Like many transit operators, Durango Transit reports on their website that they are bringing back services cut during the pandemic but worker shortages make expansion difficult.

Durangogov.org/transit
Durango Transit
Day 6-7 - Local and regional options in Bent County

Bent County Transit offers fixed route services Monday-Friday. Their buses run along the Highway 50 corridor connecting the communities of La Junta, Fort Lyon, and Lamar.

Bent County Golden Age Transportation Service (GATS) operates demand response service anywhere in Bent County.

GATS operates one, yes one, 12-person shuttle. But that one vehicle can open up a lot of options to people.

On their website, GATS describes their service as allowing “clients the opportunity to remain self sufficient and independent in their own homes for an extended amount of time.”

Transportation and quality of life are tied together. The transit in Bent County underscores that when they spell out all the reasons one would ride including accessing medical appointments and prescription pick ups, banking, grocery shopping, and recreational and social activities. 

During August, their already low fares will drop to zero.

Topics
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.

Find Out More