A westbound RTD bus on East Colfax Avenue at Broadway instructs riders to enter through the back door to lessen contact with the driver due to the coronavirus pandemic on April 17, 2020 in Denver.

Metro Denver's Regional Transportation District is preparing to cut its budget and staff to cope with the financial difficulties exacerbated by COVID-19.

Otherwise, the transit agency of trains and buses is expected to come up $166 million short in 2021, with ridership currently at about 40% of what it was before the pandemic shut down much of the economy.

RTD could cut up to 30% of its 635 part- and full-time employees, while holding off on raises and eliminating currently vacant jobs. Furloughs also are a possibility as the financially troubled transit agency faces another hurdle.

At a study session on the budget issues last week, RTD’s Chief Financial Officer Heather McKillop presented board members with scenarios to cut the budget to address the gap. Her proposal suggested making $14 million in cuts to administrative costs. 

The board also is expected to consider deferring $114 million in capital and maintenance projects during its workshop next Tuesday, starting at 5:30 p.m. The session will be carried on the RTD website available by clicking here.

“RTD, like much of the world, is having to face the reality of our times by addressing the financial impact of the pandemic,” Paul Ballard, the agency's CEO and general manager, said in a statement Tuesday evening. “These are difficult times requiring difficult decisions, but we will work through this and stay committed to keeping our employee family and the public informed with the facts as they evolve.”

RTD offered about 60% of its services from before the shutdown in March, but it still has all its employees.

The way things are going, RTD will be "unable to sustain the costs associated with maintaining current levels of staffing," the agency said in its statement Tuesday.

The union that represents RTD employees, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1001, said that the layoffs would disproportionately affect workers over managers.

“Any RTD action planning layoffs will be premature and based on highly questionable financial projections,” ATU said in a release.

“RTD should not be threatening to take action that will destroy its ability to provide transit services to the metro area in coming years.”

In their release, the ATU claimed the financial projections were untrustworthy, saying RTD has a history of “botched” financial projections.

“Late last year, RTD had botched their financial projections so badly that the board had to plan for extreme service cuts in the last few months of 2019, long before the current pandemic was even known to exist,” the ATU said.

The union found that while RTD staff has increased by 154% in 35 years, represented employees have increased by only 38%.

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