RTD Director District G candidate Q&A

Julien Bouquet

AGE
26
RESIDENCE
Lone Tree
PROFESSION
Teacher
EDUCATION
University of Denver
FAMILY
My wife and myself have grown up here in Douglas County.
EXPERIENCE
I am currently in my fourth year of teaching for Douglas County School District. I have also been a community organizer and volunteer since 2012.

Why are you seeking public office?
My wife and I were constant RTD riders during our college years. Now that we live next to a light rail station, we noticed the price of the fare was not affordable and the time of the ride was not efficient compared to the other public transportation networks we have used in other cities. As I continued to do the research, I found that RTD has had major issues in the last four years including: a budget crisis, decreasing ridership, and employee dissatisfaction. I am running for this office to create innovative solutions to fix the growing amount of problems RTD is facing.

What will your top three priorities be if elected?
My top three priorities as director will be: launching an information campaign about rider safety, creating affordable fares and protecting driver/operator employment. One of my first goals would be spearheading an information campaign regarding COVID safety while riding RTD. We need to communicate to the public that we as an agency are taking all the steps necessary to stop the spread of COVID. I believe this campaign will be most effective if we pair it with a decrease in fare rates. Lastly, we need to reevaluate other options to fixing the RTD budget crisis besides simply cutting drivers and operators.There appears to be a real lack of advertising and marketing to promote ridership. A balanced budget must be achieved by working on the demand side as well as the supply side.

The coronavirus pandemic has created a severe budget crunch that’s expected to last for several years. How should RTD cut spending and/or increase revenue?
The largest issue that motivated me to run for RTD Director was the decreasing ridership over the years. Creating a fare rate that is competitive with other forms of transportation here in Colorado will be one way to encourage more ridership. More ridership will mean more revenue for RTD. As a Board of Directors, we also need to think of more innovative solutions of how to manage our finances. Vehicle size would be one example of this. We are not being efficient if we are still using the same large buses that are mostly empty. We could replace those vehicles with smaller shuttles without having to eliminate the route. As above, for little marketing dollars, we can also employ social media as a tool to promote ridership.

What is your long-term vision for RTD to better serve Denver and the metro area? What are the challenges to achieving it?
I have talked to hundreds of constituents during this campaign. One theme I have noticed from constituents who come from cities with successful transportation networks, is that the public knows they can easily access and always rely on public transportation. We need to create this mindset here in Colorado. Riders need to enjoy their experience while riding, so that they continue to ride with RTD. Riders need to feel that their ride was affordable, accessible, safe and efficient. The challenge will be communicating this with the public. If we initiate affordable fares, create more efficient routes, promote safety and advertise this to the public we can increase and sustain our ridership.

In a district as large as RTD, should the board take a demand-driven approach that focuses service in communities with more density, or do you favor maintaining an equitable level of service across the coverage area?
In our current condition, I believe it to be the more practical approach to focus on the high density communities where the demand exists and will be utilized. As important as it is to expand in Colorado, RTD does not currently have a feasible and reliable course of action that would result in the benefit of that expansion. In order to get RTD back on track, we must first establish desirable means of transportation that currently run within our existing routes. This includes lowering fare rates, stabilizing employee relationships, and prioritizing the overall quality of the ride itself.

Ken Mihalik

AGE
40
RESIDENCE
Parker
PROFESSION
Aerospace Subcontracting
EDUCATION
MBA from Texas Christian University
FAMILY
Married for 15 years
EXPERIENCE
As the current district representative, I have experience with agency budgeting, auditing, oversight of the general manager and the hectic schedule

Why are you seeking public office?
Originally, it was to give volume to my voice. As a non rider, I was suspicious about overrun budgets and schedules. Having been there 4 years, I’m less sceptical, and more sympathetic. I would like to continue representing the Southeast metro area through, what will likely be, a tumultuous next term.

What will your top three priorities be if elected?
My hope is to continue the work that falls under the umbrella of Reimagine RTD. This is meant to be a blank canvas, ground up redesign of the system. It became even more complex for example, after the plunge in sales tax collections and commuting needs this year.
Second would be to foster, what will hopefully be, an exciting culture lead by the new General Manager.
And third, have RTD continue to lead in pilot programs that offer more flexible, convenient, cost efficient options.

The coronavirus pandemic has created a severe budget crunch that’s expected to last for several years. How should RTD cut spending and/or increase revenue?
While the financial projections were not good before the virus, it has accelerated what might have been incremental, longer time frame, reductions. With a 60% drop in ridership, the only practical response is that RTD will be a smaller agency. I do support the recommended staffing cuts along with a considerable, though not unprecedented, reduction in compensation. Those at the top seeing the largest reductions. This is in line with other local governments and transit agencies. I am not supportive of any tax increase initiatives.

What is your long-term vision for RTD to better serve Denver and the metro area? What are the challenges to achieving it?
Regardless of your thoughts on RTD, it is the model for many other transit agencies. For a government agency, it is remarkably nimble and innovative. Beyond the significant financing challenges, this year has seen drastic changes in commuting and travel patterns and changes to entertainment and dining preferences. Additionally, there is the shifting demographics that will affect public transit needs/demands. In order to adapt, it will be imperative for RTD to seek out and invite change, and develop partnerships that ultimately provide sustainable, desirable and dependable service.

In a district as large as RTD, should the board take a demand-driven approach that focuses service in communities with more density, or do you favor maintaining an equitable level of service across the coverage area?
This is a difficult question for small agencies, let alone for RTD which has the country’s largest geographic area. If people continue to work from home for the foreseeable future, or at least commute less frequently, then I think there is a strong argument for service to be provided more evenly across the district. Before the virus, Douglas county for example, had the largest gap in taxes paid versus services received. I think a voucher system (one is being discussed) is another mechanism to be more equitable for distribution of funds while offering flexibility to the end user.

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