Debra A. Johnson

Debra A. Johnson

Debra A. Johnson, the new general manager and CEO of the Regional Transportation District, weighed in last month on what it would take to lure riders back to public transit post-pandemic, rail to Boulder and what transit equity means to her.

“Basically what we need to do is ensure there is a level of confidence. Because one thing I can say with certainty is that there has not been any notable reports I know of where mass transit was deemed as a super-spreader,” said Johnson on “They Went Thataway,” a podcast sponsored by the Denver Regional Council of Governments.

She cited more frequent cleanings of transit vehicles, lowered capacity and shields between drivers and passengers as components of an informed plan for restoring trust in the safety of transit.

“There’s gonna be some trepidation and angst among customers coming back to the system quite naturally because it’s a fear of the unknown. ‘So you have a vaccine in place, does it really work?’” Johnson elaborated.

On the prospect of a long-delayed train route to Boulder, Johnson, whom the RTD board of directors hired in late 2020, indicated she would “need to see where the ridership is.”

“We have to be good stewards of public tax dollars. When you look at the cost of putting out certain services and if there’s not a return on that investment, perhaps it makes sense for us to leverage a bus, which is less expensive to operate,” she said.

Finally, Johnson described the notion of transit equity as providing mobility options that are tailored to various constituencies’ needs, rather than a one-size-fits-all style of service.

“It’s to basically be able to step back and think for a second what the implications are if you were waiting at a bus stop that perhaps didn’t have a bench or didn’t have other transit amenities or you’re in the dark. And specifically being a woman, that can be frightening if it’s after a certain time and the sun has gone down and you're out there alone and the bus doesn’t show up when you expect it to,” Johnson explained.

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