Riders Get Stranded at Bus Stops Because RTD Doesn’t Have Enough Drivers

Special events like Broncos games regularly stretch the system beyond its means.

Photo: David Sachs
Photo: David Sachs

RTD buses and trains are leaving people in the lurch because the agency cannot hire and retain enough personnel to fulfill its scheduled routes.

The transit agency keeps track of how much service is scheduled but not delivered. According to RTD documents, the agency did not run about 775 hours of scheduled bus service in August because of the shortage — nearly 10 times more than the same period last year.

“We have very real operating shortages at the moment,” said Bruce Abel, assistant general manager of bus operations, at the RTD Board of Directors meeting Tuesday. The agency is short 138 bus drivers and 41 train operators.

Working as an RTD bus driver is not all that attractive in a strong job market, Abel said, and the agency’s labor shortage exacerbates that problem. “Because as we mandate more people, force them to work on their days off, people find this to be a less than appealing job, and in the current job market they will chase a dollar an hour and go some place else,” Abel said.

The agency still fulfilled 99 percent of its schedules, but that figure should really be 100 percent.

Abel’s report came after District K Director Paul Solano recalled how a constituent called him Monday wondering why the 5:31 p.m. RX bus didn’t show. Turns out the driver called out of work and no replacement was available. The BroncosRide, a popular bus service operated by RTD on Broncos game days, had siphoned away any extra drivers the agency might have called on.

“If I’m waiting for that bus, I’m permanently transit dependent, I’m appalled, frankly,” said District E Director Claudia Folska. “And if I’m going to work, if I’m supposed to pick up my kid who’s depending on me and I can’t get there because we’re taking people to a Bronco’s game? That’s not okay.”

Board members agreed — it’s not okay. But the problem is not Broncos games, it’s that the transit agency is facing a budget crunch and can’t attract enough drivers in the current job market given the compensation it offers.

Right now RTD pays new bus and rail operators $16.59 per hour with a $2,000 signing bonus.

“We will continue to work with our HR functions to get more folks in the door,” Abel said. “We’ll try to make our working conditions a little bit better in an attempt to improve retention, but we are certainly nowhere near out of the woods in terms of our head count challenges.”

  • TakeFive

    I can’t think of a better word for describing RTD’s predicament than a Conundrum. Revenue is less than anticipated, ridership is falling and RTD is having driver staffing issues. Likely to be a slow slog for another two or three years I’d guess.

  • lycra_bustier

    I’m eager to see if Denver’s notion of buying up RTD services will have a positive impact on this and other issues (or none, or…whatever). The idea of a robust regional transit service is great, but it’s something that might be best handled by revenue-positive entities like cities that can afford to pay more and, perhaps, guarantee more frequent service with shorter routes and less territory.

  • jmfay

    Ms Folska; you may be transit dependent but the few times we have seen you out and about; you had a driver so please dont act like you give a darn! The 73 bus Monday night never bothered to show at 810? so we got stuck waiting until 840 for the bus at quebec and first. When was the last time you got stuck waiting on a bus that never showed?

  • Bjorn

    This is directly related to Denver’s escalating housing prices. Normal people working normal jobs get hit the hardest by expensive housing.

  • Diane Duggan Hopkins

    Driving a bus with 50 or so people on board is a very big responsibility.$16.59 per hr may be OK for training but should be at east $18 for full time permanent position. I used to take the EX from Evergreen to Downtown, some days with snow are a very dangerous situation. I think the driver should be very well paid!