RTD District E: Fay faces steep challenge against seasoned RTD District E incumbent

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Incumbent Claudia Folska is seeking re-election for her Regional Transportation District E board seat, which spans portions of Arapahoe County and Denver. District E residents will be seeing the opening of the new RTD Aurora “R” line later this year, the 10.5-mile Interstate 225 light rail system that will connect the East Commuter Rail Line through Aurora to Nine Mile Station and metro Denver’s Southeast Corridor Light Rail.

Folska is the first blind woman to ever hold public office in Colorado and was elected to RTD’s board in 2012. She faces challenger JM (Maria J) Fay for that seat, who has never held an RTD board position. Fay however ran as an independent in 2012 for the District 41 Colorado House of Representatives seat and lost to Democrat Jovan Melton.  Fay said she considers herself a community activist who uses RTD daily to get around. 

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By RACHEL SAPIN, Staff writer

Fay faces steep challenge against seasoned RTD District E incumbent

Incumbent Claudia Folska is seeking re-eletion for her Regional Transportation District E board seat, which spans portions of Arapahoe County and Denver. She faces challenger JM (Maria J) Fay for that seat.

Claudia Folska
Claudia Folska

Folska — who is legally blind and completely relies on public transportation to get around — has for years worked closely with the RTD board to help improve its service for handicapped riders, most notably enhancing important “quiet” crossings in some heavy residential areas.

“As the current director for District E at RTD, I have been immersed in all aspects of the district as a whole,” Folska said.

Folska also brings unique academic qualifications to the role. “My dual (master’s degree) is in public transportation, specifically, the expansion of the largest investment in a multi-modal transportation system in America. Today you can ride your bike from Boulder to Beijing and back,” she said.

This year, RTD received some criticism from advocacy groups for charging $9 each way to take the new A Line commuter rail from Denver Union Station through Aurora to the Denver International Airport. Folksa does not see lower fares in the future as a solution; she thinks RTD’s fare structure is reasonable.

“The RTD has day passes that allow the rider to ride as frequently as they desire. Additionally, the new fare structure provides discount rates for low-income, senior citizens and people with disabilities,” she said. She added that, this year, RTD is opening five new transit corridors, costing $5.5 billion dollars.

Folska said she believes RTD should use public and private funding to fund future transportation projects.

maria-jm-fay
JM (Maria) Fay

Challenger JM Fay was a Cunningham Fire Protection District board member from 2008 to 2012. She has worked as a contract delivery driver for 25 years and worked in online sales for five years, and has a bachelor’s in international business from the University of Colorado.

“I am a community activist who fights for the overall good, as opposed to helping a few people, and I am very persistent when a wrong needs to be righted,” Fay said.

Fay said she believes RTD’s new fare structure is bad, particularly for Aurora commuters. “These new fares harm those people who can least afford it because regional (riders) and DIA was given a favorable rate structure,” she said.

Fay said she uses RTD daily as well, because she has no car.

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Folska — who is legally blind and completely relies on public transportation to get around — has for years worked closely with the RTD board to help improve its service for handicapped riders, most notably enhancing important “quiet” crossings in some heavy residential areas.

She holds a dual PhD in Cognitive Science and Urban Design and Planning from the University of Colorado, Denver. 

[/wc_accordion_section] [wc_accordion_section title=”JM Fay’s biography“]

JM Fay was a Cunningham Fire Protection District board member from 2008 to 2012. She has worked as a contract delivery driver for 25 years and worked in online sales for five years, and has a bachelor’s in international business from the University of Colorado.

[/wc_accordion_section] [wc_accordion_section title=”Claudia Folksa’s issue questions and responses“]

What makes you the most qualified candidate? As the current director for District E at RTD, I have been immersed in all aspects of the district as a whole. Additionally I am permanently transit-dependent. I utilize the services of RTD daily. Finally, my dual PhD is in public transportation — specifically, the expansion of the largest investment in a multi-modal transportation system in America. Today you can ride your bike from Boulder to Beijing and back.

Some advocacy groups have argued that paying $9 each way from Denver Union Station to the Airport on the A Line is out of reach for many low-income residents who need to use the service. It’s a fraction of that in some cities, such as Minneapolis. Do you think the new RTD fare structure is affordable for commuter and light rail lines? Is it more important to draw more riders with lower fares, or move away from that model and work toward a sustainable RTD budget? The new fare structure for the Regional Transportation District is reasonable. The RTD has day passes that allow the rider to ride as frequently as they desire. Additionally, the new fare structure provides discount rates for low-income, senior citizens and people with disabilities. All transit agencies on our planet are heavily subsidized. This year, the district is opening five new transit corridors, costing $5.5 billion dollars. Finally, the RTD’s operating budget receives 20 percent from the fair box revenue. It’s important to remember, RTD is a public service.

RTD undertook a year-long Fare Study, complete with dozens of public meetings and multiple opportunities for input and suggestions on how to better structure RTD fares. Interestingly, some low-income advocacy groups wanted RTD to have high fares for the airline traveler, suggesting in some cases they be at least $16 one way. We also received input from at least one advocacy group calling for an airport pass that would allow anyone to pay a one-way fare, but instead receive a roundtrip. As a result of that suggestion, RTD implemented a day pass, allowing people to make unlimited trips on any RTD services that day by purchasing a one-way airport fare.  Further, the airport fares are reasonable when compared to the costs for taxis, private shuttle vans, limos or Uber- and Lyft-type rideshare services. Here are a few bullet points from the Fare Study process that might be helpful:

• To help airport employees, we allow both the regional day pass and monthly pass to be used for trips to the airport. Therefore, if a round trip to the airport is made on the same day, the fare is only $4.50 ($2.25 discount) each way or the same as a regional trip. Additional savings are realized for monthly pass holders.

• In addition to the monthly and day passes being accepted, many airport employers participate in the Business EcoPass program, which often means that the employees are provided access to RTD with little to no out of pocket cost.

• When comparing to other means of getting to the airport (taxi or paying for parking), the $9 fare is very affordable. With the location of DIA and distance from the CBD, it is not necessarily a fair comparison to look at our airport fares compared to other cities with airports that are much closer in.

• The airport fare was set at the lowest SkyRide fare so this service category did not include a fare increase in 2016. In addition, we provide a very high level of service (and have historically with SkyRide) to the airport, with service running until 1 a.m.

What strategies will you implement to promote and increase ridership? In 2014, I began a new initiative called “I Love My RTD” student art contest. It is aimed toward middle school kids. The winner of the art contest gets their artwork wrapped on a 40-foot bus. This kind of community engagement builds awareness and lifelong riders of the RTD. Another important strategy is to complete the entire buildout of the voter approved FasTracks system. Once complete, the RTD will have a comprehensive transit system improving the mobility options for folks throughout the region. 

What funding mechanisms should RTD use to fund future transportation projects? RTD should use any and all funding mechanisms available to fund new projects. For example, P3s — inner governmental partnerships such as the kind seen with CDOT. Other federal funding tools such as RIFIA and TIFIA may be appropriate. The funding tools are dependent on the type of the project. The RTD will take each project, case by case basis.

How often do you use RTD? I am permanently transit dependent. I utilize the services of RTD daily. 

A common complaint is that RTD buses, especially on suburban lines, come too infrequently and aren’t on schedule. Are those complaints off base? What can RTD do to improve on those criticisms? The RTD provides service based on ridership. Unfortunately, most people who live in the suburbs drive rather than use RTD. This in large part is a result of the suburbs being built for the car, rather than walkable transit-oriented communities. Municipalities would be wise to re-think their long range planning strategies to favor public transit and walkability, reducing the general dependence on the car.

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What makes you the most qualified candidate? I am a community activist who fights for the overall good as opposed to helping a few people, and I am very persistent when a wrong needs to be righted. I also have used my bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado in my small home-based businesses, as well as on the board for Cunningham Fire Protection District.

Some advocacy groups have argued that paying $9 each way from Denver Union Station to the Airport on the A Line is out of reach for many low-income residents who need to use the service. It’s a fraction of that in some cities, such as Minneapolis. Do you think the new RTD fare structure is affordable for commuter and light rail lines? Is it more important to draw more riders with lower fares, or move away from that model and work toward a sustainable RTD budget? The fact is people are not paying $9 each way to go to DIA. A day pass is $9 or $4.50; a regional/DIA monthly pass is $171 or $85, which means DIA employees are also not paying their fair share to support RTD. It further made no sense at all to make the DIA fare so much higher then the regional fare, but fail to have a higher rate for DIA on the passes. The fare structure is on the present board, which includes my opponent Claudia Folska.

These new fares harm those people who can least afford it because regional and DIA was given a favorable rate structure. When Aurora gets light rail later on this year, only four light rail stops (northern most) will be local to downtown Denver/DTC. The rest are all regional, and regional is almost twice what a local fare is. Fares need to be fair to all, and people who travel a long way should be paying more.

What strategies will you implement to promote and increase ridership? On time performance, frequency of buses/trains, cost/benefit (i.e. with parking rates).

 What funding mechanisms should RTD use to fund future transportation projects? All options are on the table.

 How often do you use RTD? Almost daily due to no car.

A common complaint is that RTD buses, especially on suburban lines, come too infrequently and aren’t on schedule. Are those complaints off base? What can RTD do to improve on those criticisms? No, they are true. RTD doesn’t ensure drivers leave on time (they instruct them to wait at the light rail stops to catch all the people they can, but they do not wait at park n rides/transfer centers, giving bus riders the same courtesy. Drivers also don’t leave on time as they are talking on their phones; other drivers; etc and don’t keep track of the time.  Aurora buses run poorly (#3 / # 11) so they are once an hour all the time except during evening rush or after 8 pm; Sunday / holidays.

[/wc_accordion_section] [wc_accordion_section title=”LIGHTER SIDE: Claudia Folksa’s personality questions and responses“]

What food do you hate most? Cake

Do you indulge in recreational marijuana? No.

Who would play you in a movie about your life? Kate Winslet.

What Olympic Sport so you wish you could win gold at? Cycling.

What was your favorite childhood candy? Redhots. 

If you could be an eyewitness to one event in history, what would it be? Dr. Martin Luther King’s Aug. 28, 1963, “I Have a Dream” speech and march on Washington, D.C.

If the Secret Service gave you a code name, what would it be? Cancan.

If you had to sing karaoke, what song would you sing? Car karaoke counts. “18 Wheeler,” by Pink.

What epitaph would you like written on your tombstone? Imagine the Impossible, Possible

Is a hot dog a sandwich? Could be — just cut it down the middle.

What is the last concert you attended? Colorado Symphony, Natasha Paremski.

What movie do you never tire of watching? “Casa Blanca”

Dogs or cats? Both.

What’s the most overrated thing about living in Colorado? The winters.

[/wc_accordion_section] [wc_accordion_section title=”LIGHTER SIDE: JM Fay’s personality questions and responses“]

What food do you hate most? Cauliflower.

Do you indulge in recreational marijuana? No.

Who would play you in a movie about your life? Don’t know.

What Olympic Sport so you wish you could win gold at? Swimming.

What was your favorite childhood candy? Reese’s peanut butter cups.

If you could be an eyewitness to one event in history, what would it be? Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1952.

If the Secret Service gave you a code name, what would it be? Bear.

If you had to sing karaoke, what song would you sing? Car karaoke counts. “Rocky Mountain High”

What epitaph would you like written on your tombstone? She tried.

Is a hot dog a sandwich? No, but you can make it into one.

What is the last concert you attended? John Denver.

What movie do you never tire of watching? “Snowy River”

Dogs or cats? Neither.

What’s the most overrated thing about living in Colorado? The pot.

[/wc_accordion_section] [wc_accordion_section title=”Claudia Folska’s campaign finance“]

Click here for Claudia Folska’s Campaign Finance Reports

[/wc_accordion_section] [wc_accordion_section title=” JM Fay’s campaign finance“]

Click here for JM Fay’s Campaign Finance Reports

[/wc_accordion_section] [wc_accordion_section title=”Claudia Folska’s endorsements“]

The Villager Newspaper

[/wc_accordion_section] [wc_accordion_section title=”JM Fay’s endorsements“]

Not available.

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