Consider what a trip from Colorado’s Western Slope to Denver International Airport using public transit now looks like. A traveler must plan and pay for different legs of the journey on separate smartphone apps, transferring from Colorado Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) Bustang express bus service to the Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD). Juggling multiple applications can intimidate potential riders and dissuade them from using transit at all.
In the years ahead, this trip will look much different, thanks to a Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Accelerating Innovative Mobility (AIM) challenge grant, a program that promotes forward-thinking approaches to improve financing, system design and service in the transit industry. The $687,000 award – part of $14 million in funding announced last week to support 25 projects in 24 states – will allow RTD and CDOT to work with their mutual mobile ticketing provider, Masabi, and app partner Transit, to develop a multimodal trip planning and payment integration feature in the Transit app.
In announcing the grant awards, FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams said, "As we face this public health emergency, investments in innovation are critical for transit agencies to better meet rider expectations and adapt to changes in our transportation system. We are pleased to collaborate with these grant recipients to develop new service methods to improve safety, increase access, develop more efficient operations and enhance the transit experience for all."
With all elements offered in one place, that trip from Grand Junction to the airport will feel much more approachable. Travelers need to open just one app, Transit, to view a complete itinerary and purchase Bustang and RTD tickets. They will know how long the trip will take and how much it will cost. They will be able to switch between tickets to show the correct fare payment to each service provider. The process will be seamless from the user’s perspective.
And because of further integrations through the project, riders also will be able to use Transit to book a ride on Lone Tree’s microtransit service, Link On Demand, and plan and pay for a scooter trip in Denver. Currently, riders cannot plan an intermodal trip and purchase fares for a transfer among RTD, Bustang, microtransit and e-scooters in one mobile experience.
Riders have come to expect intuitive, accessible transit planning options through mobile apps, and transit agencies should adapt to meet these expectations, noted Tonya Anderson, RTD’s senior product manager of electronic fare operations. Through this public-private partnership, RTD plans to create an experience that consumers have come to expect.
“When it comes to mobility, I don’t think customers think about competition between providers," Anderson said. “They’re thinking, ‘Everyone should be working together, and let me have the experience.’”
Her colleague, Planning Coordination Manager Paul DesRocher, noted that the connectivity inherent in this project aligns with the goals outlined in RTD’s own First and Last Mile Strategic Plan, as well as the Denver region’s Mobility Choice Blueprint, which provides coordinated strategic direction related to walking, bicycling, driving and transit.
“Like all projects and ideas, this was a way for all of us to come together, put our ideas together and see what made sense, and fulfill a need that was out there,” DesRocher said. “The public needs something that allows them to plan and pay for trips in a seamless way. We think this will be a good start to that.”
The team’s work on the $1.023 million initiative is to begin soon and is targeted to roll out to the public by 2022. In addition to the grant funding, the project includes $336,000 in matching funds: $30,000 in cash from RTD; $10,000 in cash from the Denver South Transportation Management Association, which helps fund Link On Demand; and the balance in in-kind development, product management and program management expenses from RTD, CDOT, Transit and Masabi. Mobility provider Via, which supports Link On Demand, also will take part.
This project will enable those involved to study how integrated ticket payments and multimodal trip planning affect rider behavior. They will be able to assess additional needs of multiagency travelers, evaluate the impact on congestion along routes and monitor the effect on local businesses that might cater to multiagency riders. The opportunity to provide customer support and reconcile ticket revenues to individual agencies will provide insights for other agencies seeking to adopt a similar model. In addition, the experience could result in consideration for new regional fare products.
“Providing passengers with a way to purchase tickets for both RTD and our Bustang and Bustang Outrider services through a single transaction is a ‘win-win’ not only for riders, but for both our agencies,” said CDOT’s Senior Manager of Mobility Operations Michael Timlin. “Promoting and increasing transit use statewide, as well as in the metro Denver region, is a primary goal of CDOT and RTD, and the development of this multimodal ticket platform provides another conduit to do just that.”
CDOT’s Bustang and Outrider services connect rural communities across Colorado, reducing highway congestion and offering a low-cost option to riders traveling to Denver, Colorado Springs and Denver International Airport.
Masabi supports all three mobile platforms on which RTD riders can buy tickets. The transit agency’s popular Mobile Tickets app launched in the fall of 2017, and RTD began selling transit tickets within the Uber app in May 2019. RTD ticketing in the Transit app, which is also the official trip planning app of Boulder County, launched in September 2019.