When discussing what we must do to fix climate change, using public transit in place of cars is one solution that always comes up.

Public transit provides a clear environmental benefit by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and using public transit is “one of the most effective actions individuals can take to reduce their carbon footprint.”

Denver RTD has also started a Zero Fare for Better Air program this summer to help reduce ozone in the Denver area, making this month an even better time to get back into public transit. Because I have multiple disabilities and can’t drive, I have often depended on public transit for my travel needs, and as a way to contribute to fixing the climate crisis.

Why should you ride public transit, and how can you get started using public transit when most people are so reliant on cars as a society? The steps below will help you get ready.

Why you should ride

People calmly sitting on a public bus

People reading and relaxing on public transportation

Use your commute to help address climate change. 

Chances are, if you’re reading this, fixing climate change is important to you. Though many segments of society contribute to climate change, transportation is the largest domestic contributor, The U.S. Department of Transportation explains: “In 2019, transportation accounted for 33% of emissions in the United States – and that statistic doesn’t even account for the full lifecycle of transportation-related emissions, such as the emissions from building our transportation infrastructure.”

With transportation contributing so much to domestic emissions, using public transit is an important way to reduce emissions. With planning, you can build a more climate-friendly commute into the trips you take anyway.

Get more exercise

Because traveling to bus or light rail stops requires some walking, using public transit helps build exercise into your commute. This way, you get exercise without setting special time aside.

Save money on parking

I’ve heard many friends complain about the price of parking in Denver. Parking in Denver can get very expensive. Consider cutting down on this expense by commuting on public transit, and only worry about paying fare, not parking for the entire day.

Cut down on driving stress

One of the advantages of public transit is you do not have the stress of driving and being constantly on during your commute. It is important to pay attention for your stop, but you can bring a book or other activity to pass the time.

How to ride

Two people riding a public bus together

Two people sitting next to each other on a public bus

Now that you know why you should use public transit, how do you get started? Use the tips below if you are a public transit newbie:

1.) Plan your trip

It’s important to know where you are going, and the transit route you’ll use to get there. For this, you can Google a place and click the directions button, or use the RTD Online Trip Planner, and check out these suggestions to make the most of it.

2.) Pay your fare

The good news is you don’t need to pay fare in July and August, but for the rest of the year, be sure to have your fare.

If you pay in cash, bring exact change so you don’t overpay. If you ride transit regularly, consider investing in, or see if your school or workplace offers, a transit pass benefit. There are also fare programs for low income, military,  seniors and disabled folks among other groups.

3.) Relax, but pay attention

You can bring a book, phone or other project with you on transit, but don’t get so distracted that you miss your stop, and be ready to pack up quickly. Stops are announced over the intercom and also printed on signs at the front interior of the bus of train cars. 

4.) Arrive at your destination 

After you get off at the correct stop, there may still be some walking needed to get to your final destination. Busier transit hubs sometimes have officers that can point you in the right direction and answer questions.

More transit hacks

Using public transit with disabilities. 

For those of us with disabilities,  transit can be tricky, especially given that we have had to fight for access. That said, as a disabled person, I find public transit very helpful both in reducing my carbon footprint and staying connected in my community.

By mastering public transit now, I also have skills I can pass on to new riders, and be ahead of the curve as Denver transitions to more sustainable transportation. 

5.) If you have trouble accessing traditional public transit

Look into Access A Ride and Access on Demand.

6.) If you are able to use traditional routes and use a mobility aid or need additional assistance

Use the access ramp and the driver will ask your destination and make sure you get off at the right place. Cane users can take advantage of the raised dots to tell when they are close to light rail tracks.

7.) If you are nervous to take public transit alone

Try practicing your route beforehand or travel with a friend. This will help you be prepared when you need to be somewhere on time, and have the benefit of safety in numbers. If something does go wrong, you can transfer to a different train car or bus, or ask the driver for help. 

Those were some tips to get you started using RTD during the Zero Fare for Better Air months. Riding public transit now is an easy way to help fight climate change on your daily commute. If you are looking for more ways to fight climate change, consider volunteering for 350 Colorado.

Headshot of Monterey smiling, sitting in a chair

Photo Credit: Lindsay Clark 2022

About the Writer:
Monterey Buchanan


Monterey Buchanan is a Colorado native, climate activist, feminist, and writer who enjoys writing fiction, plays, and blog posts both to entertain and draw attention to social issues. To read more of her writing, visit her personal website and Facebook page.