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.”