Getting around Denver via RTD public transit

Denver streetcar

Denver’s public transit system is called RTD (or “Regional Transportation District”… how creative) and it makes getting around the city a snap. It integrates seamlessly into Google Maps, so much so that I found Google’s arrival estimates more accurate than RTD’s own displays.

RTD has three types of vehicles: buses, light rail, and commuter rail. For the most available transit options I’d recommend staying downtown or nearby.

You can buy tickets in cash on buses or with vending machines at some stops, but I used the RTD Tickets phone app. At least on iPhone you have the option to purchase tickets with Apple Pay for extra security.

The basic standard adult tickets are currently $3 for a three hour pass, or $6 for an entire day. There are multiple fare zones most tourists won’t have to worry about except for one: the dreaded “airport” fare zone ticket costs a whopping $10.50. For up to date fare information check here.

Side note: ever wondered why so many cities have nearly identical RFID card payment systems for transit? They’re all using the same provider. Not in Denver though.

Downtown there’s also two free bus options: the 16th Street Free MallRide along the busy pedestrian shopping corridor, and the Free MetroRide which is aimed more at local commuters. Both go between Union Station and Civic Center but do so along different routes.

It’s not obvious from how slowly it inches along downtown, but the light rail has a right of way with no cross traffic in the southwest part of town and quickly speeds between stations. Lines that compete with mixed traffic aren’t so lucky.

I was surprised to find an entirely new commuter rail line opened up during my stay in Denver, the G line. Hopefully that’s a sign of more to come.

I think the longest I had to wait for an RTD bus or train while in Denver was about 12 minutes. That’s not bad in spring weather, though I’d probably feel differently if I’d visited Denver during the winter months.

If you’d like to go beyond Denver check out Union Station. Aside from RTD’s commuter rail and Amtrak at the ground level there’s also an underground bus station. I found out about this way too late for my own trip, if I’d known earlier I think I might have factored in time for a day trip to a nearby city, perhaps Boulder? Point is you can venture beyond Denver pretty easily on a bus if you plan for it.