You’re not allowed to tip Denver bus drivers but you are allowed to tip Denver bus drivers

It’s not part of mainstream tipping culture but it would be a windfall for RTD employees.

The RTD bus lane on 15th Street downtown. Nov. 5, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The RTD bus lane on 15th Street downtown. Nov. 5, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photos

No bus driver expects a tip, said René Ricks-Stamps as she held the big chrome steering wheel steady, her 15 bus rattling over mini-glaciers on 15th Street. After seven years on the job, she just received her first tip this month — a few bucks as a Christmas present.

“We’re not really in it for that. We’re in it to provide a public service to the city,” Ricks-Stamps said.

Get a ride from a Lyft driver and your app pings you to tip her with the press of a button. Hand a cabbie cash and you give him a little extra because that’s what you do.

Board an RTD bus, though, and chances are you’re not giving any extra. A “Thank you” is common from Denver bus passengers (to the surprise of East Coasters) but, honestly, who tips a bus driver?

Tipping bus drivers is not part of Denver’s tipping culture.

Denverite spoke with drivers and passengers who said as much. Some customers cited the $3 cost per trip, the highest public transit fare in the country. Others said they would tip if they thought it was A Thing.

“I just never thought of it,” said Sherese Williams, a rider on the 0 bus. Williams said she might consider it now that it’s crossed her mind.

A bus driver waits in traffic. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A bus driver waits in traffic. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Habtamu "Habtex" Weldechrcos and his bus by the future CDOT headquarters in Sun Valley. Weldechrcos is from Ethiopia and has been driving for RTD for 16 years. In all that time, he says he's never been in an accident, at least, that he caused. Jan. 26, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Habtamu "Habtex" Weldechrcos and his bus by the future CDOT headquarters in Sun Valley. Weldechrcos is from Ethiopia and has been driving for RTD for 16 years. In all that time, he says he's never been in an accident, at least, that he caused. Jan. 26, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

 

“Why would I?” said James Holloway, another 0 rider. “They’re late or leave us standing in the cold.”

(For the record, there are a lot of reasons for late buses, most of which have nothing to do with the driver and everything to do with traffic and a severe shortage of drivers.)

If every passenger on the Colfax bus lines tipped 20 percent of the regular fare, drivers would split an extra $13,200 a day.

That’s according to the approximate daily ridership. Of course, there are considerations: some people can’t afford to tip, while others don’t carry cash, and many ride for free or at a reduced rate depending on their age and income. But you get the idea.

Restaurant servers make between $18 and $45 per hour in tips, according to the Colorado Restaurant Association, which surveyed its members. Waiters and waitresses average about $25 per hour — on top of their base wages — in Colorado, a spokeswoman said.

RTD drivers start at between about $20 and $25 per hour. Similarly consistent tipping would incentivize drivers to care more and could draw new ones into the fleet, bus driver Ricks-Stamps said. While she does not expect people to tip unless they want to, she would like to see the official policy more welcoming of the practice.

“If RTD made it standard, I think that would be really nice,” she said.

Interview requests to the local bus drivers’ union went unanswered.

The transit agency technically forbids tips. But tips happen and that’s OK.

RTD’s bylaws prohibit tipping, but officials also know that humans gonna human.

“I think when those policies are applied to real life, there is a gray area,” said Laurie Huff, a spokeswoman for RTD.

Passengers typically tip drivers after forming rapport on longer routes, like on buses between Boulder and Denver or the airport (when drivers handle luggage), she said.

The rule stems from concern over exchanging money — “to protect the integrity of the farebox that there’s nothing inappropriate going on with money,” Huff said.

“Ultimately people want to express appreciation for the drivers and we appreciate the public appreciating our people. So it’s OK as long as it’s clear that it is a tip.”

Gifts are fine, too.

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