Dear Denver RTD,
I had the pleasure yesterday of riding my bike 19 miles from Lakewood to downtown Denver almost exclusively on cycling paths, all the way to Union Station, where I intended to catch a BX up to Boulder. I understand you are in the process of re-developing the old rail station to be a major multi-modal transit hub for the city, with a great deal of high density mixed use transit oriented development in the vicinity. So far, it looks absolutely great, and I applaud you for working with the city and developers to continue central Denver’s urbanization in an intelligent way, and make long term investments in non-automotive transportation infrastructure for the region. I am considering re-locating to the Denver area from Southern California when I finish my PhD, to work at the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, and the region’s excellent transit system is one of the reasons. I prefer not to own a car or drive, for economic, fitness, and environmental reasons, and having high density mixed use developments and effective multi-modal transit options makes living without a car much more pleasant and convenient.
Unfortunately, there was one terrible blemish in my transit experience yesterday. When I arrived at Union Station, it was not clear from where the RTD busses depart. The signage leading to the bus embarcation area was incomplete, and left me puzzled. Perhaps the station is still in the midst of being rennovated, and this will be corrected shortly. I proceeded into the station hoping to find someone who could point me in the direction of the RTD boarding area, and found only an Amtrak employee, sitting beneath a large “INFORMATION” sign, behind apparently bulletproof glass, reading a magazine. I walked up to the window and enquired politely as to whether he might know where the RTD area was, and he replied in a desultory tone “All over town.” I clarified that I simply wanted to know where at the station the busses departed from, and with a snide manner, he pointed at his nametag and informed me that he worked for Amtrak, not RTD, and that it was thus not his responsibility to be informed in the slightest as to where I might be able to catch a bus. Unfortunately, I was in a hurry, and didn’t take the time to get his name, or speak to a manager, but he was a portly white man, with blonde or light brown hair, and he was manning the desk at approximately 2:15pm on Thursday, January 8th, 2009. I spent a few more minutes searching for the RTD boarding area, and failing to find it, finally proceeded to the transit center at 17th and Market St. Unfortunately, this delay resulted in my missing the BX (express) and instead I had to take the B (local). When the bus stopped at Union Station, it appeared to be directly within the line of sight of the Amtrak information window, suggesting that the employee was being either willfully unhelpful, or completely oblivious to his surroundings.
Unfortunately, this experience is altogether too consistent with my previous interactions with Amtrak. So far as I can tell they are, as an organization, poisonous, and completely devoid of any sense of customer service. I would love to use passenger rail in lieu of the airlines, but because of the greater expense, time, and unreliability of the system I currently avoid it altogether. I realize that RTD does not have managerial or disciplinary control over the Amtrak employees, but as Union Station is being integrated into a core position within RTDs transit system, I believe RTD has a vital interest in making sure that it functions well. Employees there should be knowledgeable about all of the transportation options which use the station, and they should be friendly and helpful. Certainly you must as an organization have some leverage on, or at least interaction with Amtrak, and I would encourage you to use it to improve the quality of the personnel at your shared facility. It is an enormous blemish at the heart of an otherwise wonderful transit system.
Thank you for your time and attention.