Navigating Your Way around Denver’s Transit System

Have you thought about taking public transportation, but it seems overwhelming? Never mind the joy of figuring out all of this with kids and strollers! If you live and work in the suburbs, you may not need to take public transportation, but there are areas of Denver (like downtown) that are much easier to navigate using public transportation.

RTD BUSES – The Ins and Outs

Are the buses family and child friendly?

According to Michelle Brier with Regional Transportation District, parents with children are unique, and are not treated in the same manner as those with disabilities unless parents identify themselves or their child as disabled. RTD has a requirement to keep the wheelchair securement area available for individuals using mobility devices. In order to do that, most city buses offer a “large items” section behind the securement area, which is usually suitable for storing the folded stroller. (I say city buses to differentiate them from the regional coaches, which we call inter-city buses. On inter-city buses, all strollers must be folded and stored in the luggage bays underneath the bus.)

Operators are required to ask all parents to fold their strollers upon boarding. Parents may, at this time, identify themselves or their child as having a disability and thereby unable to fold the stroller. Some strollers also resemble the types of mobility devices used for children with disabilities. If your child uses one of these mobility devices, please let the operator know. Also, the operator sees hundreds of people a day and he or she may not remember your specific circumstance, so please don’t be offended if they ask you to fold your stroller on subsequent trips.

Other RTD rules: Up to three children ages five and younger may ride for free with a fare-paying adult. Otherwise, common sense rules apply. It is recommended to have children remain seated while the bus is moving and walk to the exit doors when the bus has finally reached a complete stop. If you are worried about keeping all your children together as you exit, we recommend using the front door of the bus. This ensures that the operator can see your entire party.

What ages are kids allowed to ride the bus alone? Are there any rules on this? 

We thought long and hard about this when including the youth fares. This is going to vary from situation to situation. We expect middle-school aged students and older to be able to travel by themselves. But throughout the school year, we see groups of siblings riding to and from school together; they may or may not be accompanied by an adult. If operators have concerns that a young person is unaccompanied, they will contact bus operations dispatch to request help.

Can you think of other issues/concerns for parents and children riding public transportation? 

Just remember that being on a bus is the same as being in any public place; whatever precautions you would use in taking your children out in a public setting would be advisable here. The most common reminders would be to have your fare ready before boarding the bus and keep track of your personal items so they are not left behind or appear available to the casual thief.

We recommend that if a child or youth becomes lost while riding the bus, teach them they should inform the bus operator as soon as possible and stay on the bus with the operator until help arrives. If the child remains on the bus, the bus operator always has contact with dispatch, and dispatch has the GPS signal of the bus. If they get off the bus, we no longer have a way to track where they are.

Lastly, a useful tool is the RTD Transit Watch app, which is active 24-hours a day, seven days a week. It is a direct connection to the RTD transit police, and an excellent way to report safety or security issues and get a real-time response if you need help.

How to pay?

There are four ways to pay to ride the RTD:

Cash: Who has this these days? Ha! Plus, you need to have exact change which means having bills AND coins (I know; crazy right?).

Plan ahead and buy tickets: these are great if you don’t ride the bus often. There’s a discount for books of them and they’re available at manned RTD stations or at the grocery store service desk.

MyRide Smart Card: This is just another option for payment. It’s an easy-to-carry card that you load from a website. Each fare-paying individual must have their own MyRide Smart Card when boarding. There is a no pass-back rule on the MyRide Smart Card which stops the card from being used by multiple people at the same time while boarding. You may assign and manage your kids’ cards on your account, but each person will still need to have his or her own card when using RTD services. The maximum number of cards that can be assigned to one account is now at 40.

RTD Mobile Ticketing app: The RTD Mobile Ticketing app is immediate and easy to use. You buy tickets and then activate them, which means you can pre-buy a bunch of tickets. RTD is working on a new feature called the “Partner Portal” which will allow one individual to purchase multiple tickets and passes and distribute to a larger group of people. The RTD will have more information about the expected date for it to go live to the public in the near future. Electronic payment by credit or debit card is required for purchasing through the mobile ticketing app.

Where to ride the bus:

Express Buses:

Boulder: Parking hassles and the ease in using the “Flatiron Flyer” makes for a streamlined trip. Park at a park and ride (for free if you live in Denver) and hop on a bus!

Grand Junction, Colorado Springs and Fort Collins: Hop aboard the Bustang, a purple commercial bus from Denver Union Station. It’s air-conditioned and wifi-equipped and covers all cities to Grand Junction, south to Colorado Springs and as far north as Fort Collins.

DIA: The Denver airport sits 23 miles outside the city, which means if you’re not renting a car, this can present some difficulties getting back and forth. A cab ride can cost up to $60, while ride-share apps run about $30, parking starts at $8 per day.

Express Buses and Train: Depending on where you live, the express buses and train normally run $9.00 each way. You can easily take the Denver Airport Rail from the airport to Union Station and back. In addition, the pass is good for the entire day on any of the RTD Light Rail or buses. It’s the shortest walk from public transportation to the security line in the United States, literally a five-minute walk from the train to the TSA line.  

Regular Service Buses:

Downtown, RiNo and surrounding area. These areas of town are so crowded and it’s such a hassle to park (sometimes an expensive one) that it’s great to take the bus.

FREE 16th Street Mall Ride: The buses stop at each block along this pedestrian-friendly promenade, stretching from Union Station in Lower Downtown to just before the capitol building in the Central Business District.

Free MetroRide: This covers 13 stops between Union Station and the Civic Center. Intended for commuters, the shuttle runs during the morning and post-work rush.

Specialty Buses: One of the cool special services offered by the RTD are buses to special events. This includes (but is not limited to) Bronco Games, CU Buff Games, CU vs CSU game, BolderBOULDER and the Ski-n-Ride. Probably the biggest “gotcha” on these is that they require exact cash round-trip fare. Some special coupons are taken, but don’t count on it. And they don’t make change. For more information, visit Sports Rides.

Riding the Rails on the Light Rail!

Bound to be popular with anyone who has primary school kids (boys especially), riding the train can save you gas, hassle, and provide entertainment all on its own. The light rail train travels almost 35 miles throughout the suburbs of Denver. There are trains leaving every 15 minutes between the hours of 6 AM to 8 PM. There is a total of eight stations. This is an affordable and fun way to make your way around the city.

Destinations include: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Pepsi Center, Coors Field, Elitch Gardens Theme and Water Park, and Denver Union Station.

You can enjoy a park and ride parking lot at many locations and even bikers, can ride The Light Train with a permit.

Things for families to know about the train: There is a ramp at the front of the train to get strollers and wheelchairs into the train. It’s a handy and time-saving option!

You must pay when you get on (they do check, so be sure to pay and hang on to your ticket). The great news is that your paid pass serves as a transfer to all other RTD transportation services.

Denver Parent magazine continues its goal of greening our city by helping you to navigate the public transportation system around Denver. It’s a lot of fun, great for environment, and if you know the ups and downs, it can save you a lot of stress! Let us know if you have any additional tips or questions in the comments.

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