The Regional Transportation District has responded to its much-publicized driver shortage with a proposal to cut six bus routes and reduce a variety of other services, including both light rail and bus lines.
Staff from the regional transit agency, which is responsible for operating public transit service in eight metro Denver counties, presented its board of directors with that proposal on Dec. 19.
The proposed changes, which would also include the elimination of all special service to Denver Broncos, Colorado Rockies and CU football games, would not take effect until May. But before any of the changes can be implemented, RTD will first seek what is described in an RTD press release as “extensive public comment” on the proposal. The board of directors will vote on the final proposal in March.
According to an RTD press release, the intention of the proposal is to reduce the number of short bus and light rail trips canceled on short notice because RTD continues to run without the number of operators needed to fully staff all of its transit operations.
The agency says it is currently able to staff 99% of its scheduled bus trips and 93% of its scheduled light rail trips. However, those staffing levels have meant there have also been days where many trips have had to be canceled, including up to 100 light rail trips a day in recent months.
The driver shortage has also meant that many of RTD’s current bus and light rail drivers are currently required to work six days a week and now work an average of 52 hours a week. That situation means RTD also has difficulty retaining employees, particularly given the general strength of the Denver area economy and RTD’s practice of requiring those drivers with the least seniority to work the most overtime.
“It’s affecting the quality of life for our employees, customer confidence, upholding our core values of safety and reliability, and our credibility, which we take very seriously,” Chief Operating Officer Michael Ford told the board during the presentation of the proposal.
Colorado Community Media previously reported that a survey of 13,000 respondents conducted by RTD in November found that 60 percent of respondents favored service reductions if it meant they would improve reliability of the system.
Three of the bus routes that would be canceled predominantly serve Jefferson County. Those Jeffco routes include the 16L, which runs along West Colfax Avenue between Golden and the Denver Civic Center; the 55, which runs through central Arvada; and the 99L, which runs from Southwest Plaza west of Littleton to the Federal Center in Lakewood. However, also included are the 157, which serves Aurora, the 236 in Boulder and the 403 from Littleton to Lone Tree. Peak weekday service on the 16th Street mall ride would also be reduced to every three minutes from every ninety seconds.
Disabled users of any eliminated bus routes would be able to access transportation via RTD’s Access-A-Ride program, although new users would not be able to take advantage of the service.
The staff presentation said those routes had been chosen for elimination because they have been found to either be underperforming other routes in terms of revenue and community demand or because they represent duplication of other services.
The light rail lines that would see service reduced under the proposal include the R line along I-225, where service would be reduced from four trains an hour to two. Weekend service would be eliminated on the D line between Littleton and Denver's Five Points neighborhood, although it would actually be increased on the C line between Union Station and Littleton because of increased demand along that line.
The RTD press release stated the proposal would not completely eliminate the need for cancellations or the need for drivers to work long hours but it would significantly reduce both issues.
Board member Vince Buzek was one of the directors who expressed skepticism about the strategy behind the proposal.
A press release quoted the following statement from Buzek from the meeting: “A transit agency should provide transit. Dramatic service cuts as a way to address a problem gets you away from that philosophy and the mission."
One of the bus riders already dreading a potential cancellation is Jared Martinez, who lives in Denver and relies on the 16L for transportation to his job in downtown Golden
“It will suck if they get rid of it,” Martinez said. “It drops me off right near my office.”
If the decision is made to drop the line, Martinez said he will likely switch to taking the R light rail line, which would require him to then take an Uber or Lyft from the light rail to his office.
“It’d be a little more time and a little more money,” he said. “It’s definitely disappointing.”
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