Wrestling with its ongoing recruitment and retention problems, the Regional Transportation District on Thursday proposed a temporary service reduction that would nix six bus routes and reduce service on nearly 20 bus lines.
If approved by agency directors, RTD’s plan also would put the brakes on buses used for major sporting events, like Denver Broncos and Rockies games, as well as cut back on light-rail services.
The reductions, although anticipated to be “painful,” are intended to stabilize the overwhelmed and understaffed transit agency, which has struggled with driver shortages since 2015, and offer riders “greater reliability and on-time performance.”
RTD has mandated six-day work weeks for most operators to fill staffing gaps, and the strenuous working conditions have been a major complaint of recruits and operators who leave the system, agency officials say. Since June, at least 25 rail operators have quit, according to David Jensen, the assistant general manager of rail operations.
“We would rather not be doing any of this,” spokeswoman Pauletta Tonilas said during a Thursday press conference. “But this is our responsibility.”
In a recent RTD survey, roughly 60% of the 13,000 respondents said they preferred temporary cuts over current service levels, feedback which helped propel the new proposal.
Bus routes currently considered on the chopping block include Routes 16L, 55, 99L, 157, 236 and 403, all of which serve suburbs of the Denver metro area.
Service on downtown Denver’s 16th Street Mall shuttle could also see cutbacks, pushing back arrivals every 90 seconds to every three minutes.
Light rail service could see reductions, too. The D Line would no longer run on weekends, and C Line services would be expanded to help offset service shortages.
Under the current plan — which could be implemented in May — users of Access-A-Ride, which serves people with disabilities, would not be affected. However, future users of the service could be if they need a ride in areas that lose bus service.
The proposal on Thursday night was introduced to and weighed by the agency’s board of directors, who agreed staff should move forward with the plan. It won’t be finalized until the spring, however, after public meetings are held in mid-January and February throughout RTD’s 15 districts.
The agency hopes that the temporary changes will allow time to build up workforce and provide “relief” to operators before service is restored, although the details largely remain unclear.
“I want RTD to succeed,” tweeted Matt Gray, who chairs the Colorado House of Representatives’ transportation committee. “But there is no reason to believe any of these cuts are truly temporary.”
RTD currently faces $40 million in budget cuts come 2020. CPR reports that the shortfall is due to nearly $15 million less in fare revenue than expected, as well as more than $25 million less in sales tax revenue.
Only adding to agency challenges is its frantic search to replace outgoing General Manager and CEO Dave Genova, whose last day is Jan. 20.
“The goal of this proposal is to reduce mandating our staff, uphold our core value of safety and improve reliability for customers,” Genova said in a statement Thursday night. “We want to regain the confidence of our passengers while improving quality of life for our employees.”
A revised plan will be presented to the board of directors in March and, if given the green light, will be implemented two months later.