By Jill Carstens
The RTD Board of Directors recently decided to postpone a vote on amendments to its code of conduct and will seek public comment on them through June 2.
The proposed amendments to the transportation district’s code of conduct were advanced to address growing issues on trains and buses and include suspending repeat offenders. Initially, some of the most controversial proposals would have restricted how long people can travel on RTD’s system on one fare and limited the use of electricity on the train platforms.
Groups and individuals criticized the proposed amendments during a recent RTD Safety and Operations Committee meeting, as they said the changes would add to the overall challenges of Denver’s homeless and disadvantaged populations, many of whom are transit’s most regular riders.
There were two opposing opinions reflected in the meeting, in which committee members applauded RTD Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald’s work on the document. But after people made comments about the proposals, several committee members were hesitant to push them through.
“If you take away the use of electrical outlets, our disabled population can’t recharge their phones and wheelchairs,” said Jaime Lewis of the Colorado Cross- Disability Coalition.
At the same time, many suburban transit riders complained about groups loitering while charging phones at these outlets and doing hard drugs on the platform. The safety of Denver Union Station seemed to be the brunt of many concerns. Several lower downtown business owners commended the proposed amendments to the code of conduct, hoping they would help curb drug use, loitering and public urination, saying their employees have not felt safe on their trips to downtown.
Conversely, Molly McKinley with Denver Streets Partnership criticized the limitation of duration of rides, acknowledging that many homeless seek refuge on the buses and trains in colder weather. She called the changes “not welcoming” and said the board was rushing to approve the code of conduct before adequate public comment occurs.
“We cannot be the backup plan for the unhoused, but if a passenger has paid their fare, they should be able to ride respectfully,” said Director Michael Guzman of District C, which covers North Denver.
The nuances of the proposed amendments between a person resting their eyes while riding compared to another rider sleeping on multiple seats or the floor were addressed.
Fitzgerald said the “no-napping” policy and suspensions were put in place to target chronic offenders. Some of those policies have since been amended from the original proposals. He said that while a suspension for some people is drastic, the measure is meant to be a diversion tactic before an arrest might occur and would be used as a tool to cut down on the more severe behaviors.
Director JoyAnn Ruscha of District B, which includes parts of Park Hill, Central Park and Denver International Airport, said simplifying the language in the document would help clarify the details of the code of conduct’s proposed amendments.
There was a difference of opinion as to whether the amendments were fair to all persons in all districts, suburban and urban.
Director Marjorie Sloan of District M, which includes parts of Lakewood and Golden, suggested RTD could open the amendments up to further public comment before finalizing the code. She offered that the code of conduct’s purpose is as a tool for RTD to improve the safety of all rather than restrict certain riders.
Acknowledging that many issues were connected to homelessness, Director Ian Harwick of District L, which primarily covers Arvada, pointed out that providing more outreach coordinators, who offer resources in housing, employment and other services, could reduce the need to call a security officer. Currently, RTD has contracted one outreach coordinator. Fitzgerald said he has asked for more outreach coordinators to be hired with the approval of the amended code of conduct.
Director Kate Williams of District A, which includes areas near the Denver Country Club and Glendale, reminded attendees that the code of conduct is a “living” document and approving it to go forward to the full board would not prevent it from being worked on in the future.
Director Doug Tisdale of District H, which includes Greenwood Village and Highlands Ranch, strongly disapproved of postponing the approval and warned his peers not to succumb to the “the heckler’s veto.” After a recent regular RTD Board of Directors meeting, approval was postponed to June 2 to allow for further public input.
“We have taken a step back to reset and further engage with our community,” Guzman said. “We are calling it, ‘Respect the Ride.’ I am asking my community, you — yes, you, dear reader — please give feedback to the board and the agency through this process so we can make the most informed decision.”
To provide your input on the changes to RTD’s code of conduct, visit a link available in this article at denvernorthstar.com or at surveymonkey.com/r/K35ND66. The page is provided in English and Spanish.