Jun 10, 2024 - News

Crime and safety concerns mount as RTD looks to boost ridership

An RTD bus at Broadway and Colfax Avenue in Denver. Photo: Hyoung Chang/Denver Post via Getty Images

An RTD bus at Broadway and Colfax Avenue in Denver. Photo: Hyoung Chang/Denver Post via Getty Images

Drug use, fights and threats of violence are an everyday experience on RTD's buses and trains in the Denver metro area, a new analysis finds.

Why it matters: The security threats to riders and drivers are hampering the state's goal to encourage mass transit use and compound the agency's ongoing problems with costs, driver shortages and service kinks.

By the numbers: RTD passengers — who numbered 61.6 million in 2022 — reported being assaulted or threatened at a rate of once per day over the last three years, the Denver Post reports from agency records.

  • Bus and train drivers on the agency's 134 set routes were physically assaulted at a rate of seven per month for a total of 463 times between January 2019 and this April.
  • Verbal assaults and threats of violence against drivers occur a dozen times a month on average.

Threat level: The bulk of the incidents take place on routes involving the city's main thoroughfares: Colfax Avenue, Broadway and Federal Boulevard.

  • Illegal drug use is the most common concern, followed by threats of violence. But the January fatal shooting of a 60-year-old man whose leg was blocking a bus aisle is elevating safety concerns. A 13-year-old boy is charged in the man's death.

The other side: RTD is doubling its own police force, increasing patrols and mounting barriers between drivers and passengers. Transit officials blame societal problems at large — mental health, substance abuse and homelessness.

  • "We're all adversely impacted by the same elements of society," RTD general manager Debra Johnson tells the Post. She added: "Whatever's happening in a municipality is going to spill over into the transit system."

Between the lines: Drivers can remove passengers who are causing trouble or stop and call law enforcement. But Johnson acknowledges sending drivers to work without being able to guarantee an optimal environment.

  • Over a five-year period, RTD bus drivers and train operators filed nearly 1,800 claims for compensation for being harmed on the job, the Post writes.
  • This year, nearly two-thirds of the claims involved inhaling vapors or fumes, typically related to illegal drug use on board.

What to watch: Johnston is calling on state lawmakers to increase criminal penalties for violence on public transit, in particular for assaults on RTD drivers.

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