Denver airport scores RTD EcoPasses for restaurant and retail workers

Nearly 3,000 people who work at restaurants, shops and kiosks at Denver International Airport have received access to cheaper or subsidized transit passes this year under an EcoPass deal that received formal approval Monday from city leaders.

Some concessionaires who operate businesses in the airport had provided workers with passes to use the Regional Transportation District’s A-Line train or buses to get to work. But others couldn’t afford it — or were too small to qualify for the lower per-worker EcoPass rates given to large employers.

So DIA negotiated an arrangement with RTD in which the airport serves as a master contractor for EcoPasses and then passes the cost along to operators who hold 74 concessions contracts.

The Denver City Council approved the one-year, $1.9 million deal as part of a block vote, but the arrangement actually took effect Jan. 1. Concessionaires paid $632 per employee for 2023, a rate that slashes up to $442 off what they would pay on their own to enroll in EcoPass, according to DIA.

“Our concessionaires are saving roughly $370,000 by entering into this agreement,” said Rachel Gruber, DIA’s manager of regional affairs, during an earlier council committee hearing.

The 2,987 passes went to less than 10% of the roughly 35,000 people who work at DIA, but they make up a disproportionate share of lower-paid service workers. EcoPasses already are offered to DIA’s 2,000 direct city employees. Many others work for large companies that qualify for RTD’s lowest rates.

Concessionaires covered by the new program operate inside the terminal or concourses and have direct contracts with DIA. They range from outlets with fewer than 10 employees to some with more than 100.

“For any small business to get the pricing that the large companies have, it’s incredible,” said Dennis Deslongchamp, who as president of the Denver Concessionaires Association has pressed for a broader EcoPass arrangement. He’s a partner in concessions that include Tamales by La Casita, Elway’s, Villa Pizza and XpresSpa.

Concessionaires can absorb the per-employee cost, which amounts to $52.67 per month, or pass some or all of it to their workers. Without an EcoPass, workers could pay as much as $200 a month for RTD’s monthly pass that includes airport access.

DIA officials say they’ll reevaluate the new program for 2024 after RTD decides later this summer on an expected overhaul of its fare structure and pass programs, including EcoPass pricing as well as much lower prices for monthly passes.

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