By Celeste Benzschawel
After the Denver Connector Microtransit Program, a free rideshare for all ages, successfully debuted its pilot in Montbello in 2021, it was expanded to the Globeville, Elyria and Swansea neighborhoods six months ago.
At its launch in Montbello, the program boasted a large ridership that continues to grow as people learn more about it. While the GES program is having a bit of a slower start, the city is noticing a similar pattern of growth and is hopeful that it will catch on.
As of May 2023, the Denver Office of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI) reported that 11,635 passengers have used the Denver Connector in GES neighborhoods. The total passenger count of the program, including the GES and the Montbello-Gateway service areas, is 93,751 since it started.
DOTI spokesperson Vanessa Lacayo said that the city did a lot of homework prior to launching the program in the GES neighborhoods to help people understand what the program was all about. It wasn’t until March 2023 that community members started to warm up to it.
“I think residents are naturally pretty skeptical when you say, ‘Hey, we’ll give you a free ride where you need to go,’” Lacayo said.
DOTI started this program as a way to fill the gaps present in RTD routes and other forms of public transportation, she said.
“What DOTI is doing here is looking at alternative ways to get people where they need to go, whether it be getting them to a doctor’s appointment, getting their kids to school, going to the grocery store,” Lacayo said, “and just kind of helping them create opportunities for themselves.”
One of the rideshare program’s notable destinations is the Viña Apartments, a complex primarily serving lower-income residents on East 48th Avenue. Resident Matt Lapitski said his experience good. As someone with a disability and without a vehicle, he uses it once or twice a week to get to places like the library and the grocery store.
Lapitski said he has done his best to spread the word about the program to his neighbors, and one of his tactics was using the Next Door app.
“Anybody that identified as being out of the Globeville, Elyria-Swansea neighborhood, saying that they had joined Next Door, I would post a comment that basically said, ‘Hey, I want to make sure everybody understands the Denver Connector’s out there,’ and gave the URL to the program,” Lapitski said. “I was doing it so much that I was classified as a spammer.”
Even in person, Lapitski shares info about the program with every Viña resident he runs across, and keeps a picture of the Denver Connector business card in his phone to show people, he said. One day he was riding the bus and came across a disabled gentleman who had about 10 Walmart shopping bags with him – another opportunity for Lapitski to spread the word.
“I would really like (the program) to continue,” Lapitski said. “I have nothing but good things to say about it.”
Future expansion of the program is yet to be determined until after the pilot’s end, scheduled for 2024. Until then, Lacayo urges community members to continue providing feedback to the city to help shape its next phase.