RTD makes final reductions in workforce this week to address financial impacts of pandemic
RTD took the difficult action of reducing its workforce this week by about 300 people due to the economic challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. RTD is poised to receive new federal assistance from the recent stimulus bill passed by Congress, and will likely be able to rescind some planned layoffs, which were planned to align its workforce to current service and ridership levels.
Transit experts and federal officials are still sorting through what transit agencies will receive from the $14 billion transit portion of the second major stimulus, and it is so far unclear how much RTD will receive. The agency received $232 million from the larger $25 billion transit stimulus portion of the spring 2020 CARES Act, which allowed the agency to keep staff in place through the end of 2020.
“While it is unknown at this juncture as to how much of the $14 billion in transit aid RTD will receive and the specific guidance for fund utilization, I am optimistic it will help us in retaining some of our frontline employees,” said Debra A. Johnson, general manager and CEO of RTD. “We cannot discern specific numbers of employees at this time; however, this funding allows us to provide supplemental service on some of our busier bus routes as we continue to assess our ridership and opportunities to better optimize our service levels.”
Before it became clear that a second federal stimulus could help close the gap, RTD had projected the need for $140 million in spending cuts for 2021. The gap comes from loss of both sales tax revenue, which makes up the bulk of RTD’s budget, and farebox revenue as ridership patterns changed drastically from COVID-19. The agency had initially projected that hundreds more job cuts would be necessary, but more recently estimated about 300 positions would be lost through layoffs and additional positions through attrition. That number may now decline further, and RTD will provide more details on the stimulus when they are available.
Union employees, such as bus and train operators, were notified of layoffs in December, and additional union staff, such as mechanics, and salaried employees were notified this week.
RTD needs fewer staff because of COVID-19-related service cuts, leaving trips at about 60% of pre-pandemic levels. The guidance on use of the stimulus money will soon be available, but the intent is for it to be used to help support transit operations.
RTD is working with impacted employees to offer assistance for transitioning to other employment, including training on virtual job search skills, resume development and job interview techniques. Assistance will also be available to provide employees with information on the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), COBRA insurance and other transitionary areas.