If you want to know what a new reality looks like, behold an empty bus. As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded over the past nine months, I observed a new landscape from my seat on Route 32: fewer people on the streets outside, my bus driver separated from his passengers by a polycarbonate shield, and typically no other passengers besides me. Those empty seats reinforced the fear our community has been living with in this age, with stay-at-home orders and new ways of working for some leading to new and different travel patterns taking shape across our region.
This was the daunting reality I inherited in early 2020, not long after I began my term as Chair of the RTD Board of Directors. The information that I, my Board peers and the agency’s senior leadership team received from government agencies and health authorities like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed by the week, sometimes by the day. Our conversations focused on how we, as a transit agency, could ensure the security, safety and comfort of our passengers in light of the constant chaos that surrounded us. From my perspective, it felt like everything got thrown in one big pot and was boiling over constantly – and I was supposed to make soup.
The last year was one of growth and reality checks. It was surreal and painful, filled with gratitude and concern, happiness and sadness, fear and hope. And yet it also marks a new slate, with RTD hiring a new general manager and CEO – the first woman in this role in the agency’s history, and a woman of color – and considering new ways to conduct business and interact with the public we serve. The new year presents an opportunity to move to a new RTD. We are living in a new world. We all need to give ourselves permission to collaborate, innovate and consider nontraditional ways to work together that benefit our whole community.
I believe COVID-19 has changed the way that people view transit. Pre-pandemic, public transportation was taken for granted – you might complain about the service, but you expected it to be there and knew you could take it wherever you wanted to go. This period has made us consciously reevaluate and reconfigure the service we provide, in response to where it is most needed. I think people now realize how important transit is in the community, and that it serves as an economic backbone for people throughout RTD’s massive service district.
As my Board colleagues and I move forward into the new year, I want the public to know that RTD has been taking a close look at what has worked and not worked in the community. We continue to reflect on the services we provide and what we need to provide. We are thinking about the best ways to communicate with our diverse base of customers. We want you to know that we are listening to you, and we want you to tell us what’s working and not working, since you are on our buses and trains.
To those of you who have ridden RTD services over the last year, we see and appreciate you. Those who have not yet returned, we look forward to welcoming you back on board when you are ready. Every decision we make is guided with your safety and well-being in mind, with stepped-up cleaning protocols and social distancing limits in place on our vehicles. RTD has been forthcoming about our approaches to the current reality, and I will continue to work diligently with my fellow elected officials from northwest Denver, as I have all year, to keep everyone apprised.
Not all about the last year was dark. Beyond the resourceful ways RTD responded to the pandemic, we also opened a long-awaited commuter rail corridor, the N Line. I am excited about the connectivity this new line provides among Denver, Commerce City, Northglenn and Thornton and encourage you to try it.
The last year instilled me with a sense of purpose to lead RTD and the broader community. One of my most fundamental realizations from 2020 was the need to care for my soul. I heard someone aptly observe that with no mud, there is no lotus plant. Adversity can bring growth and wisdom beyond the hurt, and we receive warmth, space and light by pushing through the suffering. A beautiful flower will eventually emerge from darkness, and we will be there to see it. Everyone is moving forward now in ways we could not have seen mere months ago. Openness, inclusivity and innovation are inherent in the transition that is taking place right now. As an RTD director and as the group’s chair, it is my honor to represent you and work alongside you to meet your needs. Our transit is for you.
Angie Rivera-Malpiede is the District C Director, and Chair of the Board of Directors, for RTD