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Colorado bill could establish universal public transit pass for statewide use

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Sara Wilson

(Colorado Newsline) A potential bill next year would establish a universal statewide transit pass that commuters could use across transportation agencies.

The bill, as conceived by Democratic Sen. Kevin Priola, was given the green light to get drafted during a Monday meeting by the Transportation Legislation Review Committee. The committee will later vote on whether to send the bill to the Legislative Council, to be introduced at the Capitol during next year’s lawmaking term.

“I’m trying to think of policy ideas to lower barriers to entry and lower friction to enjoy mass transit,” Priola told Colorado Newsline. He said he has spoken with stakeholders about the idea over the past few years.

An “omni-pass,” as Priola referred to it, would let a commuter take complex public transportation routes without needing to buy multiple tickets or navigate different fare purchasing systems.

“I love the idea of hopping on a bus in the suburbs, getting to a light rail station, going downtown and hopping on a Bustang to Fort Collins or Grand Junction without having to go to a kiosk or swipe your card or anything,” he said.

He said he views the idea as a convenient, cost-saving mechanism for people who use multiple transportation systems or travel the state frequently.

The Regional Transportation District, which provides bus and rail services to the Denver metro area, reported about 52.6 million boardings in 2020. In Colorado, just 1.3% of people use public transportation to get to work, according to recent Census data, and 64% of people drive alone in their car. The share is only slightly higher in the Denver metro area.

That is a trend officials are looking to reverse.

To boost ridership, the Legislature passed a bill that allowed RTD to roll out two months of free fares this summer, following a 22% increase in ridership during last summer’s free transit month. This August and September, certain Bustang route fares are half-price. RTD is also rolling out a year-long pilot program to let minors ride for free starting this September and is reducing its fares across the board.

A statewide pass might be another tool to get more people on public transit.

“I think it’s the way to go, especially as (the Colorado Department of Transportation) tries to reduce congestion and pollution in our state,” he said.

Priola said the concept takes inspiration from the Epic and Ikon Passes, which allow consumers to use multiple private ski resorts on one pass, as well as the state’s recent effort through the Keep Colorado Wild Pass, which is an annual fee attached to vehicle registration that gives people entry to all state parks.

Priola wants to give transit the same treatment — though specific details, such as price and whether it would be rolled into an existing fee collection, haven’t been worked out. Priola said the bill language would not be too prescriptive and would give a lot of room for different agencies to work on the final product together.

The bill will be drafted in the coming weeks for the committee to consider at its next meeting slated for Oct. 3. Legislation introduced through the General Assembly’s interim committees doesn’t count towards the standard limit of five bills that an individual lawmaker can introduce in each legislative session.

Even if the transit-pass proposal doesn’t make it through the committee, however, Priola said he would likely run it on his own in 2024.

Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.