Denver area transit system struggles with worker shortage

November 23, 2019 GMT

DENVER (AP) — A survey of passengers who use the Denver area’s regional transit system shows more of them would be willing to see service cuts if it leads to more reliable travel.

The survey by the Regional Transportation District comes as the agency looks at whether, and how, to pursue service cuts amid one of its worst labor shortages in its 50-year history, The Denver Post reported.

“This is an emergency,” said Judy Lubow, who sits on RTD’s board of directors. “This is just creaming us in terms of status and reputation.”

In a survey of 13,000 people, 59% favored a temporary service reduction to better balance bus and train runs with RTD’s employee numbers. The respondents said they’d be willing, on average, to wait up to 18 minutes for a bus or light rail train.

During a Nov. 6 telephone town hall that involved 5,000 people, 58% of respondents gave an identical answer in terms of their willingness to accept temporary service cuts in exchange for more reliability. That group said they would be willing, on average, to wait up to 30 minutes for a bus or train.

“They want to just show up and have their trip,” RTD General Manager Dave Genova said of passengers, adding that this is the first time in his 25 years at RTD that the agency is contemplating service cuts directly in response to a worker shortage.

Genova announced Friday that he plans to retire.

The agency is facing a historic labor shortage because of the strong economy and low unemployment rate coupled with rapid expansion of commuter and light rail lines in the past three years. In the past 33 months, RTD hired 791 new bus drivers but lost 710. On the rail side, RTD hired 177 operators but lost 201 in that same period.

Many rail and bus operators have to work six days a week — a process known as mandated overtime. And because mandated shifts go largely to workers with lower seniority, newer employees are hit hard, leading to retention issues.

“Many of our operators are tired of working six days a week,” said RTD spokeswoman Pauletta Tonilas, who also acknowledged that “our customers are very unhappy right now.”

RTD staff likely will bring a list of possible cuts to light rail and bus routes at the board of directors meeting Dec. 12.

The agency says the commuter rail lines A, B and G would not be affected by cuts, nor would Access-A-Ride, which serves people with disabilities. The earliest any service cuts would go into effect would be spring, and no decision has been made as to how long the cuts would last.


Information from: The Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com