Frequently Asked Questions about Current Bus Operations
While RTD has reduced service significantly in response to reduced demand during the COVID-19 pandemic stay-at-home orders, we are still proudly serving more than 125,000 passengers every day for vital trips to work and to care for others. We have added layers of social distancing protocols to make riding safer for our passengers and our valued employees. Customers and employees are asking questions about how these distancing efforts look on the ground, and we turned to Assistant General Superintendent of Street Operations Daniel Lamorie for some answers.
Q: There are protocols in place for no more than 15 people on a bus. How does your department try to control that?
A: I manage the bus dispatch group, station starters and street supervisors. The second the bus leaves the shop, we are in charge of making sure service is going well. Pretty much from the beginning of this we were able to see the writing on the wall; we anticipated we’d see some issues with overcrowding as soon as social distancing was put in place.
Our street supervisors are out in the field monitoring passenger counts at many locations. We saw ridership decrease with “shelter in place” orders, but we were still seeing high passenger loads on some routes where social distancing was in question.
Q: What do the supervisors do when they see buses getting too full?
A: Everything changes from block to block and stop to stop. We rely on operators to give us feedback. Whenever an operator sees 15 or more passengers on their bus, they call us with a radio code. We have extra buses strategically placed throughout the metro area. Whichever bus is closer, we can dispatch to that route to ease those loads.
Q: Do you keep track so that you know where you’ll need buses?
A: Absolutely. The dispatcher puts the information into a spreadsheet so we can track what buses are left for backing up. They also send that count to me, and it goes into a dashboard so we can see what routes and locations are running into more problems.
Q: Which routes are the busiest and need backup buses to avoid overcrowding?
A: So far, Route 15 (East Colfax Avenue) has seen 29 percent of the backup occurrences. The 16 (West Colfax Avenue) has 13 percent; the 15L (East Colfax Limited) has 10 percent; the 0 (South Broadway) has 8 percent. A few other routes also have about 8 percent of the occurrences. In about the first two weeks since the schedule was reduced on April 19, we’ve had about 1,548 occurrences of operators or supervisors calling in with more than 15 passengers.
Q: Are there other measures you use to track this?
A: We have another dashboard for “total on-time space” for our extra operators. That means the total actual driving time for the extra operators who get sent out to back up a route and avoid overcrowding. We have accumulated 96 days, 18 hours and 12 minutes of on-space time, on 1,826 trips.
Q: Passengers waiting for a bus may see one drive by their stop because it is already full. Or commuters might see you drive past essential workers waiting at a stop, and wonder why you are doing that. What’s your message for them?
A: I know it doesn’t always look great, but we do have processes in place. Our operators are supposed to contact dispatch when they have an over-run on passengers and go into dropoff-only mode. And they will dispatch another bus. That nurse may have been left at the bus stop, but they will not be left there for long because we are sending out another bus. It may be a few blocks away, but we are not just abandoning people.
People have to understand, the situation for the operator is changing from block to block and stop to stop.
Q: Do the bus schedulers take your information and use it to change their plans and accommodate passengers?
A: Definitely. They can see where there is still a lot of demand, and what time of day, and they can add buses to that route to be ready even before we get calls from operators on the street.