DENVER, CO - APRIL 17: A westbound RTD bus on E. Colfax Ave. at Broadway instructs riders to ender through the back door to lessen contact with the driver due to the coronavirus pandemic on April 17, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo By Kathryn Scott)

Passengers of the Regional Transportation District view riding buses or trains as a relatively risky activity during the pandemic, and would like to see mandatory face masks, a decrease in coronavirus cases, or a vaccine in order to feel safe, according to a the results of a survey.

“The results align with those emerging in surveys of other industries,” said interim general manager and CEO Paul Ballard. “We respect that certain factors the public noted are beyond our control, and that they will feel comfortable returning to transit at different times, depending upon factors that are unique to their lives.” 

The voluntary, online survey featured 2,662 respondents who participated between May 4-10. More than three-quarters believed that exercising outside was a safe activity. One-third believed that visiting family members or drug and grocery stores was safe. Only 18%, the lowest response rate, felt similarly about riding RTD.

More than seven in 10 respondents did not ride RTD in the past 30 days, although those who did were most commonly using it to commute to work or visit a grocery store. Most survey participants also offered responses to the question of what would make them feel safe riding transit. Universal face covering was key for many people.

“I think RTD is working hard on sanitizing the buses and rail cars, but if people don’t wear masks, that’s a problem,” wrote one person.

Reassurance of RTD’s cleaning practices was another desire from riders, with a respondent saying that they “need to know that the bus has been sanitized at the end of every run.” RTD reports that it cleans vehicles daily with chemicals approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency specifically for guarding against viruses.

For others, they indicated that they will not feel safe on transit until there is a decrease in COVID-19 cases or a vaccine.

“My sense is that our government is not effectively quarantining anyone, and the virus is out in the open,” one person feared.

“I’m not sure it is anything you can do,” another respondent acknowledged. “I won’t feel safe until they have a vaccination ready.”

Nearly one in three respondents lived in Denver, with respondents from Boulder, Jefferson and Arapahoe counties each comprising approximately 15% of the survey sample. The vast majority of respondents had a vehicle for use in their household. RTD currently sees 110,000 passengers per weekday, which is nearly a 70% drop from before the pandemic. 

While the agency received some comments about a desire to return to normal levels of service instead of the weekend levels currently in effect, respondents also indicated that the suspension of fares and the need to seek shelter caused a discomfort from the number of individuals experiencing homelessness riding RTD.

“The homeless riding around taking space for true passengers has got to stop,” said one person.

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