G Line ridership builds, but could stall with service cuts

Economy, marijuana have led to workforce shortage

Posted 11/6/19

Six months after opening, the G Line is still building toward its projected weekday average ridership, which RTD officials had estimated at 9,000. According to RTD’s latest available numbers, taken …

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G Line ridership builds, but could stall with service cuts

Economy, marijuana have led to workforce shortage

Posted

Six months after opening, the G Line is still building toward its projected weekday average ridership, which RTD officials had estimated at 9,000. According to RTD’s latest available numbers, taken in August, the G Line weekday average is “pushing 7,000,” said RTD board member Shelley Cook.

“It’s pretty common that they don’t come in at the projected levels, at least at first,” she said.

In other words, ridership projections are not meant to predict the number of passengers immediately after a line opens; rather, most lines build toward the projection over time until finally settling into the predicted average.

“So far, it’s all good news,” Cook said.

However, at a time when temporary service cuts could be looming — RTD has not yet announced upcoming cuts, but will discuss potential changes at a meeting this November — that build toward 9,000 could be put on hold.

In operation since April 26, the G Line is an 11-mile commuter rail line that transports passengers from Denver’s Union Station to the Wheat Ridge and Ward Road Station. The entire commute takes approximately 27 minutes, with eight stops on the route in Denver, Arvada and Wheat Ridge. The line requires a $3 fare.

RTD created the line to help guide growth in the area and reduce vehicles on the roads, Cook said — and so far, the line seems to have done just that. One indicator is the number of cars parked at the Park-n-Ride stations along the line.

Before the G Line’s opening, only two of the stations were open, with hundreds of individuals parking at both each day, presumably to ride RTD buses, Cook said.

Today, more than 7,000 daily customers park their cars at G Line Park-N-Rides, suggesting that an increased number of commuters are relying on the buses and the G Line as opposed to their own vehicles.

August saw a record number of G Line riders, with about 184,000 boardings, as compared to approximately 170,000 during its first full month in May and roughly 164,000 in July.

“It’s always on time, and you don’t have to worry about driving and parking downtown,” said Arvada resident Jeff Coalson, who takes the G Line almost every day to his job in downtown Denver. “It’s nice to just sit on the train and catch up on things.”

Judson Bedin, an Arvada resident who also uses the G Line to commute to work, likewise praised the G Line as a more practical option for commuting.

“It’s definitely more straightforward than taking the bus down to Colfax,” he said.

When it comes to the G Line, he has few complaints, but “scheduling is my main gripe,” he said — referring to the sometimes-extensive layovers between the G Line and connecting lines, and the fact the line stops running around 12:30 each morning.

Bedin and other riders are quick to acknowledge that these scheduling mismatches are going to become more unavoidable with possible service cutbacks in the months to come.

Why could service be cut?

RTD has been considering service cuts because of a driver and operator shortage, particularly for buses and light rails.

Though RTD attempts to offer driver pay that is on-par, with private sector rates, the competitive economy and several other factors have presented barriers to maintaining and hiring new drivers and operators.

One of the greatest obstacles has been the legalization of marijuana, Cook said, as drivers must be able to pass a drug test at any time.

“The legalization of marijuana has impacted the pool of people willing and able to drive,” she said. “Even if you’re not impaired” while driving, if even trace amounts of the drug are found through a test, “federal law doesn’t recognize a difference.”

The upcoming temporary cuts “may not apply” to the G Line, “but we don’t know that yet,” she said. “I’d be very concerned about seeing cuts this early. You really need service for an extended period of time to see the ridership get to where it needs to be.”

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