Denver’s transit agency wants your help in creating a “roadmap for the future of transportation across our region.” It also needs a lot more bus drivers and train operators to get there.
The Regional Transportation District’s “Reimagine RTD” initiative, launched last week, is a two-year effort aimed at gathering community input, evaluating the agency’s services and planning for a future of continued population growth and evolving transportation technology.
“It’s an incredible opportunity for us to be able to meet all of the new and existing demands, whether it’s around convenience, whether it’s around technology, or whether it’s around services that we don’t provide today,” Dave Genova, RTD’s general manager and CEO, said in a video announcing the initiative.
Throughout October, RTD is holding a telephone town hall for each of its fifteen districts, and an advisory committee formed to provide feedback will meet for the first time on October 10, at the agency’s headquarters in downtown Denver. Riders can also submit feedback on RTD’s website.
“Reimagine RTD is important because, primarily, there are so many needs and demands that are going unmet in our current transportation environment,” Genova said.
At an RTD committee meeting on Tuesday, October 8, the agency’s board of directors once again discussed one of the major causes of those unmet needs: a years-long driver shortage that has impacted the frequency and reliability of many of its bus routes and rail lines.
“We’ve had a situation since I’ve been on this board where we have eighty bus operators that we’re short [of], and fifty light-rail operators,” said director Bob Broom, who represents District F, which encompasses much of Aurora. “We’re hiring more people, but we constantly have people retiring, and it just seems like we’re running in place.”
Amid these staffing troubles, there’s at least one bright spot, RTD staff told directors on Tuesday. The agency is having much better luck hiring train operators for its commuter rail lines, including for the N Line to Thornton, which, following a recently announced delay, is expected to open next year.
“We’re attracting folks from around the country,” Allen Miller, RTD’s assistant general manager for commuter rail, said during a presentation on N Line progress. “We’re in comfortable shape at this point.”
The N Line is expected to be 62 percent staffed by the end of the year and fully staffed by the time service begins in mid-2020, Miller said. But the agency’s bus and light-rail operations are a different story.
“Light rail is in higher demand right now around the country than commuter-rail staff,” Miller said. “It’s a completely different environment.”
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Broom endorsed the idea of hiring a headhunting firm to help the agency fill out its staff, and Chief Operating Officer Michael Ford said that’s a possibility.
“We are looking at headhunters,” Ford said. “We’re looking at a firm right now that provides resources for operators — rail, bus, paratransit. We’ve been in discussions with them about what we can do to work together. There are some issues that we’re still trying to work through to see if that’s a possibility.”
At the end of Tuesday's meeting, the board of directors and RTD management also briefly discussed another challenge on the horizon: As it faces a revenue shortfall, the agency is looking to make cuts in next year's budget.
“We’re looking to solve for about $40 million,” Genova said. “And we’re doing that across all departments, so everybody’s impacted across the entire organization.”