University of Colorado Denver, MSU Denver and Community College of Denver offer free RTD to students and staff

Denver Public Schools will offer it to full-time workers at the Emily Griffith College and the 780 Grant Street. The city recently started offering free RTD as a perk.

A light rail train waits for passengers at RTD's Peoria Street station in Aurora. Aug. 10, 2021.

A light rail train waits for passengers at RTD's Peoria Street station in Aurora. Aug. 10, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
kyle harris

RTD’s Free Fare August is over, but students, faculty and staff on the Auraria Campus will ride for free. What about Denver Public Schools students and employees? Most won’t.

Students at MSU Denver, the University of Colorado Denver and the Community College of Denver will receive the RTD Mobile CollegePass, which gives them free access to local, regional and airport bus and rail services through January 31, 2023.

For the Community College of Denver, this is not new.

“CCD has been offering free EcoPasses for students and employees since Spring 2021 and will continue to do so through June 30, 2023,” said Executive Director of Strategy Kristina Retana.

MSU Denver student John Nelson, who is studying music, said the pass is saving him around $130 a month.

Nelson, who lives at a homeless shelter at the Quality Inn on Zuni Street, which will shut down in the weeks to come, depends on public transportation and his bike to get around.

“To have the free RTD — it allows me to travel back and forth to school,” he said.

John Nelson, who describes himself as homeless, is among the unhoused being forced from their home at the Quality Inn on Zuni Street at 16th in Denver in the next few weeks. On Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, some said they were not sure what would happen next to them.

John Nelson, who describes himself as homeless, is among the unhoused being forced from their home at the Quality Inn on Zuni Street at 16th in Denver in the next few weeks. On Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, some said they were not sure what would happen next to them.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News

And free RTD makes sense at a campus designed for commuters.

“In the heart of downtown and surrounded by train stations and bus stops, the CU Denver campus is easily accessible by RTD transit from any of Denver’s surrounding cities, and several RTD stops are housed on and around campus,” the University of Colorado Denver explained in a statement. “Partnering with RTD demonstrates the university’s commitment to making work and school accessible while prioritizing convenience, community, and sustainability.”

Denver Public Schools buses on a snowy day, Feb. 4, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver Public Schools buses on a snowy day, Feb. 4, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Most Denver Public Schools employees and students do not have access to a similar program. For the teachers union, that doesn’t seem to matter.

The Denver Teachers Classroom Association, which just wrapped contract negotiations that includes higher wages and annual raises, told Denverite securing an EcoPass benefit is not a priority for teachers.

The teachers union would prefer to see students and families in Denver Public Schools receive free access to transit. People 19 years old and under currently receive a steep 70% discount.

In improving benefits, the district opted not to include free passes in its package for teachers or support workers, though some downtown staff, mostly administrators, have recently received the benefit, saving them between $114 and $200 a month plus whatever they save in limited and expensive downtown parking.

Why those workers?

“The pilot program is focusing on staff who work at the Emily Griffith Center due to the parking rate of $12-$14 per day in the area,” Denver Public Schools spokesperson Scott Pribble said.

Who can receive the benefit? Full-time staff members working on the seventh through 12th floors of the Emily Griffith College and all DPS employees at the 780 Grant St. locations will be eligible to receive free transit through a one-year pilot program.

An RTD light rail train pulls out of the Decatur-Federal station, Aug. 12, 2022.

An RTD light rail train pulls out of the Decatur-Federal station, Aug. 12, 2022.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News

The City of Denver recently announced it would give free EcoPasses to employees.

Free EcoPass was one of the ways the Mayor’s Office is trying to support city workers through the pandemic.

“The City and County of Denver has been incentivizing the use of public transit by providing a discounted eco pass to employees for at least 20 years,” Teresa Marchetta, spokesperson for the Office of Human Resources, said in an email. “The entire time, the City has paid at least half the cost or more. The most popular routes used by our employees have not yet been reinstated by RTD, so providing a free eco pass relieves some of [the] inconvenience they face in a hybrid work environment.”

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