New Experience #6: Flatiron Flyer

I wasn’t going to count my transit experience today, but then I realized it was much like the transit experiences I’ve had while traveling in the U.S. and Europe and the new aspects should qualify it. I had to go to a station I’d never been to, figure out which bus to take and when, and find the boarding location for that bus. New station, new route (for me), new experience!

OK, backing up a bit. Maureen needed to be in Boulder early this morning to take her sister-in-law to physical therapy and I needed to be at an appointment in Edgewater (that’s between Lakewood and Denver for you non-Denverites) at 9:00. One or both of us needed to be in Boulder Friday as well for further chauffeuring duties, so we were just planning to stay overnight. That left me with the issue of getting to Boulder, preferably without taking a second vehicle–especially since said second vehicle is a mini-van without four-wheel-drive.

Fortunately, given that the outside temperatures peaked in the low 20s, my brother was available to drive me to a transit station. Buses to Boulder from the Denver metro area leave from the Federal Center in Lakewood, but only during commuting hours, or from Union Station downtown. From Lakewood, you can reach Union Station by light rail, which I was willing to do, but my brother kindly drove me all the way to Union Station. Denver’s Union Station has recently been revitalized, in concert with the expansion of transit known as FasTracks. Amtrak trains leave from the station itself, the light rail station is about two blocks northwest, and the bus terminal is underground between the two.

 
 

I walked quickly through the station, as I knew the buses I could take would both be leaving soon, then located the well-marked escalator to the underground bus terminal. Once there, I had to figure out where to find and board the bus. There were several displays, but instead of a big board for all routes in time order as you see in a typical train station, each display was for a only one or two routes. Thus, it took some time to locate the display for my bus and identify the proper gate. By this point, the time for the express bus had passed, so I headed for the “non-express” bus. It pulled up just a couple of minutes after I took my place in line.

   
 

The shiny blue bus was emblazoned with Flatiron Flyer. This was an unfamiliar title to me, so I did a little research. It turns out that Flatiron Flyer is the brand for the bus rapid transit (BRT) between Denver and Boulder that officially starts in the new year with more frequent service and slightly altered routes. BRT is new to Colorado and was not the first choice for this corridor, but a host of issues and costs resulted in its adoption. As the construction on US 36 draws to a close (a contentious public-private partnership), the express lanes are opening and the BRT can be implemented.

  
  

For curiosity or comparison, the current fare on this route is $5.00, but it will actually decrease to $4.50 in the new year due to a wholesale simplification of RTD fares. I really like the new fare scheme, not only for its simplicity, but also for the fact that it will cost less to get from Lakewood to downtown Denver on light rail. As of April 22, the system will reach all the way to Denver International Airport!

My verdict on the bus ride itself was positive. The express lanes and bus-specific exits mean that the trip is quite efficient, even on the “non-express” bus that makes every stop. I still think it’s harder to read on a bus than on a train, but BRT in this case turns out to be a reasonable compromise.

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