RTD staff presents employee and public feedback on possible temporary service reduction

The majority of RTD users would rather see predictable temporary service cuts than the last-minute, unplanned trip cancellations caused by operator shortages, according to an extensive RTD survey of riders, employees and community stakeholders.

RTD staff will deliver the results of the community outreach effort, which received thousands of responses over the past two weeks, to the Board of Directors in a special study session that begins at 5:30 p.m. today at RTD headquarters. The Board will then decide whether to direct agency staff to design a detailed plan for temporary cuts, or to leave the current schedule as is and seek other solutions. The direction the 15-member Board provides today will help staff draft a plan of action to be presented to them as early as Dec. 12.

“Over a two-week period, thousands of people took the time to tell us what they think about our service,” noted Pauletta Tonilas, assistant general manager for communications for RTD. “The level of engagement is of great value to RTD, and we appreciate every response. As the Board moves forward with its decision-making, the breadth of the public input means we have solid information at hand to understand what riders, operators and stakeholders are thinking.” 

To survey the public, RTD spent the first half of November gathering responses from 13,000 people who completed surveys and 5,000 who participated in telephone town hall meetings. Nearly 100 stakeholders, from elected officials to transit planners and more, also gave responses. RTD staff spoke with riders and captured responses at multiple bus and rail stations. All comments provided on social media were gathered and sorted as part of the effort.

RTD operators expressed divergent opinions about solutions to the shortage and what it would mean for their work. 

Many said they appreciate the chance to earn overtime through the mandated six-day work weeks that most operators have had to work for years because of the shortage, and would miss those opportunities if the schedule were cut back. Many others, however, said the workload and other scheduling stresses are affecting their health and family life, and they want the overtime to end. 

The shortage has affected light rail trips the most, with RTD currently down 65 full-time operators from 216 authorized positions – a vacancy rate of 30 percent. While RTD hired 177 rail operators during a 33-month period ending in September, it lost 201 to other job offers or discontent with working conditions.

The RTD board and staff want to move quickly on more effective solutions to the operator shortage, which has worsened in recent months and resulted in chaotic commuting hours for metro residents when bus or train trips are canceled. 

The agency has raised base pay rates, raised differential pay for less desirable shifts, added signing and recruitment bonuses, and widely expanded its marketing efforts to job seekers. RTD leaders feel they have exhausted the available short-term tools for fixing the problem. 

Meanwhile, the Colorado unemployment rate fell in October to a record low of 2.6 percent – a full percentage point lower than the national rate. As RTD is well aware, wages are rising in many comparable job categories and job seekers have choices.