The Highwaymen Are Now Boarding



noun historical

noun: highwayman; plural noun: highwaymen
a man, typically on horseback, who held up travelers at gunpoint in order to rob them.


When you get back on a sub-par metropolitan public transit system, especially after a brief respite, there’s sometimes new nuances and customs to learn. I’ve detailed the bad taste in my mouth Colorado’s Regional Transportation District has left after thirteen years of residency and service before, but my most recent return to this town’s buses and trains during arguably the hottest summer this city has ever seen has left me shaking my head in a puzzled, Kafkaesque bewilderment. As the city pushes more and more poor and working class people out, forcing longer commutes, RTD is pushing another fare hike and aggressively pursuing so-called “fare dodgers” on the light rail lines. I don’t know why I even let myself be surprised anymore.

I’ve prepared a graph.

Anecdotally speaking, the vast majority of people I’ve seen ticketed are either underage kids with expired transfers who would be riding on economically negligible fares anyhow, commuters who chanced it instead of missing a train because of slow ticket kiosks and validation processes, and regular, every day people who paid for the “wrong fare.” Armed men, sometimes uniformed security contractors and sometimes plainclothes city police, will board the trains from “random” stops and like hall monitors checking to make sure you’re allowed to be going to the bathroom, pace the aisles checking tickets. If you’re not squared away, they take your identification, take your picture, and put you in a database with a warning. If you’re already in there, you’ll get a ticket for more than $100.

Of course this happened to me.

I’ve been back on public transit for a few months, dodging fights with the homeless and trying to obey the boundaries of the smoking areas, and because it’s been thirteen years of this slog, I’ve gotten pretty good at it. RTD made a real big deal out of rolling out a mobile ticketing app recently, which has been great for me as I really don’t like to carry cash. I commute in at night, and despite charging rents comparable to New York City or Los Angeles, RTD doesn’t run all night because it is a Mickey Mouse Fucking Clown Shoes transit agency in an over-inflated town rapidly losing all of its charm. This means whatever transfer slip (I make three: two bus and one rail) I had expires at 2:59 AM every night. If I use public transit to get home from work in the morning, which I often do, this means I have to buy another ticket.

Regular fare is $2.35. If you pay this in cash, you’ll get a one-way transfer slip good for a few hours after purchase. In the mobile app, there are four options and two of them are related to using the train line that takes people to the airport. There is a $5.20 Local Day Pass and a $2.60 Local Discount Day Pass, both of which are valid all day. You flash your phone screen to the bus driver, he makes sure it’s valid and you’re on your way. There is not a Regular Fare/One-Way $2.35 option in the mobile app.

During the first and last commutes I have during my work week, I purchase the Local Discount Day Pass for $2.60 while purchasing a regular Day Pass during the rest of the week. This saves me from paying $5.60 for about two hours of service on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings and I’m still paying $.25 more to go one way. We are relying on the honor system here and assuming I’m not using public transit after I get home on Sunday morning, but according to the RTD Fare Evasion page on discount tickets, I’m not in compliance:

Proof of eligibility

If you are riding with a discounted pass or ticket, you must be able to present proof of eligibility every time you ride.

  • Seniors, age 65+: photo ID showing passenger’s age, Medicare card or RTD-issued Special Discount Card

  • Middle and High School students: current student ID or proof of current school enrollment.

  • Elementary school students proof of eligibility not required

  • Individuals with disabilities: RTD-issued Special Discount Card or Medicare card.


“I know, I can’t believe ICE wouldn’t hire me either!”

This was made abundantly clear to me when a piggish fare inspector who had just finished taking the photos and home addresses of two fourteen year old girls did the same to me a few weeks ago. Now, while I might not qualify for a Discount Day Pass, I explained that I was merely using a little workaround because there isn’t a one-way option in the mobile ticketing app and that I’m actually paying more to RTD because of it. The fare inspector didn’t care and told me that if I need a one-way pass I have to pay in cash for it or use my card at a station kiosk, took my information and photographed me for the fare dodger database.


So, let’s get this straight: the impetus is now on the consumer to carry cash if they only need to go in one direction because you, as a transit service and mobile ticketing app developer, refused to put in a one-way ticketing option? Why? Isn’t it the most commonly purchased fare? Do you not want to have to pay your card processor to process payments literally $.25 smaller than your Day Discount Pass? Are you trying to trick passengers into paying full day rates for service they don’t need or want? Or do you just really enjoy the fine revenue generated from anyone not navigating your arbitrarily Byzantine ticketing system properly?

Looking passed for a moment the obvious accusations of strong-arming poor people as an income stream, I’ve also got to deal with some rude meathead GED Gestapo reject on a power trip with his hand on a totally unnecessary gun trying to bend me over a barrel for two goddamn dollars you already fucking got from me? Get a real job. It isn’t enough that you ripped off the taxpayers for transit systems you haven’t built, or can’t open, or can’t operate consistently without delays and closures, you’ve got to turn your own paying customers into civil criminals for another couple quick bucks at gunpoint? That’s highway robbery where I come from and reason #321 the Colorado Regional Transportation District can get my foot in its ass.

Bonus: Being Mistook For the “Dorky Shorts Bandit”

In additional RTD related hi-jinx, on my commute through Littleton Friday morning a guy allegedly robbed a bank off Broadway around the same time the bus I was on went through the area. Littleton police evidently initially thought the suspect jumped on a bus to make his getaway, which would be remarkably lucky timing considering how notoriously piss-poor RTD bus service is, and surrounded and pulled over the bus I was on with around a dozen cops wielding assault rifles. Nine or ten passengers and I were ordered to put our hands up, led off of the bus at gunpoint, and briefly held and searched. One passenger briefly panicked after putting his backpack over his shoulder and was incoherently screamed at by the armed men. Another, who was sleeping when the bus was first stopped, turned out to be in a halfway house for robbery of all things and frantically called to check-in with whoever his supervisor was.

Overheard while I had my hands behind my back:

  • “Maybe it was the eastbound bus?”
  • “What lines run north and south on Broadway?”
  • “Are any of them wearing camo shorts?”
  • “I think we pulled over the wrong bus.”

I ended up missing my connecting train and declined to review surveillance footage. The bank robber is still at large.

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