Monday, May 20, 2013

Denver RTD's Business-Like Transit Management

The Regional Transportation District (RTD) of the greater Denver region has gained quite a bit of attention from their highly innovative service management approach. From the planning, construction, and operations of it's multi-modal service, RTD has proved to be ahead of the curve in how it does business.

RTD operates approximately 140 local, express, and regional bus routes serving nearly 10,000 stops, 35 miles of light rail service, and oversees more than 70 park and rides throughout the region (RTD). In 2011, RTD generated approximately 100 million unlinked passenger trips on its fixed route service and a little over 1 million trips on its dial-a-ride services (NTD 2011). RTD is funded with a combination of farebox recovery (~20%), sales tax, advertising, grants, and interest income. The agency currently receives 0.6% sales tax for system operations and 0.4% sales tax for its capital program (Starcic 18).

Managing the success of this system is not an easy thing to do. From the service planning decision process to the management of a highly ambitious rail and BRT project called FasTracks, RTD has been able to apply simple business techniques to operate a highly successful system.

Let's first look at their service planning process. RTD is knows as one of the pioneers of a highly objective and functional service planning tool called Service Standards. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) does, in fact, require transit operator to establish service standards by way of Title VI provisions, however, RTD has taken that requirement to a whole new level. Their Service Standards include detail of how services are reduced and/or enhanced using a series of performance metrics that incorporate cost, revenue, ridership, and service investment (or revenue hours). Using previous year data for these parameters, benchmark productivity standards allow RTD to objectively make service planning decisions. As an example, if a fixed bus route is highly unproductive, RTD has established a transparent process to either attempt to improve the route through marketing efforts, discontinue the route to use the resources elsewhere in the system, or convert the route into one of RTD's highly efficient "Call-n-Rides". In addition, a series of service design standards give RTD the opportunity to develop highly successful routes in the future. In essence, RTD created a this methodology (and associated document) for several reasons: a.) to respond to customer and developer requests; b.) avoid any major public criticism or unrest if the agency needs to reduce service as a result of an economic downturn; and c.) to monitor and manage a highly efficient and effective network of transit service.

From a capital perspective, RTD's highly ambitious FasTracks project has gained national attention for its innovative funding and management techniques. Although the successful approval of a 4 cent sales tax to finance construction various components of the plan, amid the economic recession, RTD worked to develop several ways to generate additional funding. Through a public-private partnership, RTD was able to essentially hand over design, construction, operations, and maintenance of two light rail projects in order to deliver the service faster (hence the "FasTracks" name) than most transit agencies in the US. Typically, capital projects take time if they are wholly dependent on FTA funding and environmental review. Additionally, RTD is working to receive approval for an additional revenue source through a taxing parity of candy, soft drinks, and cigarettes (Starcic 22).

RTD knows it has an obligation to provide a public service to the region, but it also knows it must manage the system like a business. Developing innovative management techniques discussed above combined with a comprehensive workforce training program (Staric 24), RTD should be a model for how effective and financially sustainable a transit agency truly can be.

1. Regional Transportation District (RTD). . "Services". Web. <>. 2013.
2. Regional Transportation District (RTD). "Service Standards." Revised 17 December 2002..
3. Starcic, Janna. "Denver RTD: Generating Innovative Ideas to Fuel Transit Expansion". Metro Magazine. May 2013. 18-26.

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