Denver's RTD passengers being assaulted or threatened is a daily occurrence

Passengers on RTD’s buses and trains were assaulted or threatened at the rate of one per day over the last three years, according to agency records obtained by The Denver Post. RTD drivers also are assaulted regularly — more than 100 times a year on average since 2019, records show — as they work amid crime and antisocial behavior, including riders using illegal drugs and unhoused people who sleep in station elevators and on climate-controlled buses and trains.

The violence has spurred RTD’s directors to double the district’s police force, ramp up armed patrols and install protective barriers between drivers and passengers.

The agency’s general manager, Debra Johnson, acknowledged the problems and said ensuring safety is critical. She’s discussed rising violence and crime in public transit with her counterparts in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

“We’re all adversely impacted by the same elements of society,” Johnson said in an interview, referring to mental health problems, substance use and homelessness. “These are societal issues. Whatever’s happening in a municipality is going to spill over into the transit system.  What are we collectively doing to help minimize and mitigate these societal issues?”

State lawmakers should consider stricter penalties for unruly behavior on public transit, Johnson said. Assaults and abuse of RTD drivers could be treated as special crimes similar to assaults on police officers.

RTD employees deserve “an optimal working environment,” she said. “It plagues me as the CEO of a major transit agency that I cannot guarantee that for all my employees.”

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