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W Line light rail being eyes for cuts in service

Ridership numbers have never reached projections


Russ Haas of Golden says bicycling is his preferred mode of transportation, but he'll use public transportation when two wheels aren't a convenient option for him.

“Why drive somewhere when I can pay just over a dollar to go 15 miles?” said Haas, 76, mentioning he qualifies for the discounted fare offered to seniors who use public transportation.

However, the proposed changes to the West Rail Line (W Line) being considered by the Regional Transportation District (RTD) will not affect him much, Haas said.

One of the changes concerns some cutbacks to the frequency that the W Line serves a portion of its route. The RTD will make its final vote on Oct. 24.

The W Line is a 12.1-mile stretch that runs from the Jefferson County Administration & Courts Building in Golden to Union Station in downtown Denver. There are 11 stations along the line, and it serves St. Anthony Hospital, Auraria Campus and Red Rocks Community College.

During peak hours, trains run on the W Line run from Denver to the Federal Center/St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood every 7.5 minutes. The changes being considered concern the stretch from the Federal Center to the Jeffco courts and administration building in Golden. Currently, the train runs every 15 minutes between these two stops, but if the changes pass, the frequency will reduce to every 30 minutes during non-peak times — between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. and 6-9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and all day on Saturdays and Sundays. Additionally, the W Line's entire late night stretch Sunday through Thursday would be affected — the last trip would depart downtown Denver just after midnight, eliminating the 1:15 a.m. run time.

If the board votes to pass the changes, they will be implemented on Jan. 14 next year.

“The bus is far more convenient,” he said, adding that the stop where he catches the bus that takes him right to where he needs to go in downtown Denver — a straight shot — is just about a block away from his house. For Haas to take the W Line, it would require at least one transfer to another rail line or a bus.

“The whole idea of the light rail is utopian,” Haas said. “But it doesn't quite get you to where you want to go. (And) you burn up valuable time waiting for the train and making connections.”

Originally, Menten said, the W Line was projected to get just under 20,000 boardings per day.

But “ridership is not good at all,” said Natalie Menten, the RTD director for district M, which includes Golden, Wheat Ridge and parts of Lakewood. And it has never achieved its intended ridership, she added. For the past four and a half years it has been in operation, it only gets about 12,500 per day.

“A decent performance would be 150 boardings per hour,” Menten said. “W Line is well below that. Right now, it's not performing the way it's meant to.

The W Line opened in April 2013, and that year, it ran for just over 42,000 hours and averaged 72.9 boardings per hour. In 2014, it ran for just over 58,000 hours and averaged 76.6 boarding per hour, and in 2015, it ran for just over 53,500 hours, and averaged 77.9 boardings per hour.

The 2016 ridership numbers won't be released for a few more weeks, Menten said.

Prior to the RTD board's vote, RTD is hosting nine public meetings across the Denver-metro area on various dates Sept. 20-28. The Jefferson County meeting will take place at 6 p.m. Sept. 28 at the Golden Community Center, 1470 10th St., in Golden.

Jefferson County Commissioner Casey Tighe would like RTD to better promote the train to increase ridership, rather than reduce service on the W Line, he said. Special fare packages or other promotions may get people to use the train more often, or at least try it out, Tighe added.

“I understand that RTD has budget challenges,” he said. “But I think use of the W-Line has the potential to grow over time.”

Recently, Colorado School of Mines and the City of Golden agreed to fund a two-year pilot program, which began on Aug. 28, to add another bus to the community's RTD Call-n-Ride service, which serves a 25-mile loop around Golden. With the addition, a bus will service the route every 15 minutes, making the wait time at any of the eight different bus stops an average of about seven and a half minutes.

“The enhanced Call-n-Ride service allows for more frequent and convenient travel in and around Golden,” said Golden City Manager Jason Slowinski. “It will also allow those that use the service to access the RTD W Line less wait time, making travel via the light rail system a more attractive option for those seeking to access the broader region.”

However, if the proposed changes to the W Line pass, the Golden Call-n-Ride bus frequency would no longer match.

At an Aug. 24 meeting, Golden city councilors made a proclamation to urge the RTD board to either consider a one-year delay in implementing the W Line service cutbacks to allow time to evaluate the impacts and benefits on Golden's new, enhanced Call-n-Ride; or modify the W Line service changes by proceeding with the evening and weekend service cuts, but retaining the weekday daytime service at current levels so the locally-funded Call-n-Ride investment has a chance to succeed.

“Public transportation is an important part of a healthy community. It provides freedom, mobility and opportunity to get around our community and connect with the broader region to those that might not otherwise have that ability. It also provides transportation alternatives for regular commuters,” Slowinski said. “In short, it is about quality of life, and public transportation is a key part of that.”


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