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RTD survey shows passengers, bus & train operators prefer reduced service for more dependability

Board will make ultimate decision.
Posted at 12:33 AM, Nov 22, 2019

DENVER -- This has been a rough year for RTD.

Faced with an ongoing bus and train operator shortage, which has led to numerous delays and cancellations, the transit agency surveyed stakeholders, employees and customer,s to determine whether they'd prefer that service be cut back to a more dependable level, or maintained with periodic cancellations.

RTD General Manager and CEO Dave Genova released the survey results Thursday evening.

The results show that a slight majority of employees, as well as 58 percent of the public, and 63 percent of stakeholders believe cutbacks are preferable to the status quo.

"They want to have the reliability rather than having to follow, day by day...the rider alerts," Genova said. "They just want to be able to show up and have their trip home."

That's precisely what several RTD riders have been telling Denver7.

Brenda Cisse said the shortage of RTD drivers and operators is impacting her life.

While waiting on the wheel chair ramp at Auraria Station, Cisse said, "When the buses are late, it means you're waiting out here in the elements more often."

Emily Emerson said she too prefers more dependability, even if it means fewer buses and trains.

When asked why, she replied, "Like today, it's cold. If you don't know which trains are canceled, you have to wait. There are times I've stood out here for 45 minutes for a train that's not coming."

Survey & Townhall

Thirteen thousand people took part in the public survey, and 5,000 took part in a telephone town hall.

At least 58 percent of them support a temporary cutback in service, until the driver/operator shortage is resolved.

170 employees provided feedback. Some said they don't mind RTD's forced overtime that is required to make up for the driver shortage.

One told staff, "I like having overtime. I'm used to the money. Anything less would not be enough."

But others said the forced overtime is affecting their time with family, and their health.

"I feel like I'm going to have a mental breakdown at times," one said.

Ninety-seven people (elected officials and transit planners) took part in the stakeholder feedback.

RTD said 63 percent favor a temporary service reduction.

One of the survey questions asked how long people would be willing to wait for a bus or train. The average answer was 18 minutes. Those participating in the telephone town hall said they'd be willing to wait 30 minutes.

Next Step

Genova said the next step is to get direction from the RTD Board.

He said staff is prepared to present a draft plan to the Board on December 12.

He said in the meantime, RTD will continue efforts to recruit and retain drivers.

Over the last 33 months, 791 bus drivers have been hired and 710 have quit.

RTD has hired 177 train operators and lost 201.

Genova said the last service reduction was during the great recession.

He said since then, RTD has added 600,000 hours of service.

He acknowledged that rapid growth has contributed to the driver shortage, as has a very low unemployment rate.

When asked about the drop in ridership, he said ridership has only dropped about 2 percent.

He said cutting service is a last resort, that they wanted to take all other action first.

The final decision rests with the board.

If the Board votes to cut service, it likely wouldn't happen before next spring.

Genova said cuts would only apply to RTD's bus and light rail service. He said it would not apply to the University of Colorado A Line, B Line or G Line, which are all commuter rail lines operated by concessionaire Denver Transit Partners.

He said no specific details have been determined yet.

"We want to minimize the impact to the public as much as possible," he said, "but we want to be able to get in a situation where we can get our operators some relief and get this situation stabilized."