DENVER (CBS4) – The Regional Transportation District plans to take the first step toward a reduction of service on Tuesday but outlining to its board all the steps it has taken to avoid this change because of an ongoing shortage of drivers.
“We have to mandate our operators, many of them working six days a week,” said Pauletta Tonilas, assistant general manager for RTD’s communications department. “We’re having to drop trips almost every day, this is not a situation we want to be in.”
RTD says the cuts could help relieve the burden on some operators who have been working overtime, in some cases that has meant 6 days a week for the past four years. But it could mean longer waits for commuters.
“It’s mismanagement by RTD, they treat their employees bad,” said Angela Williams, the recording secretary for ATU 1001, the union that represents RTD drivers. “They attract people but they don’t keep people, who wants to work six days a week.”
The union says the shortage is a result of poor working conditions for its members. Not only do staff routinely miss out on a regular weekend but also cannot get time to go to the restroom and in some cases do not have access to one during their break.
“Yeah, it might definitely create a bit of an inconvenience, especially for the price we pay for tickets,” Jake Haas told CBS4 during his morning commute. “It might not be worth it in the future.”
RTD says they are down 80 bus drivers and 60 light rail operators. Their current budget allows for 1,000 bus drivers and 216 light rail operators but they are below both numbers in their current workforce. Tonilas says there are not many people who want to work for the agency given the low unemployment rate.
“This is something a lot of industries are being impacted by,” she said. “These are great jobs, people can come in the door and make 20 dollars an hour, have great benefits.”
But the union says it is not only about recruiting, the current approach needs to improve their retention of employees. Workers were not able to enjoy appreciation days and often cannot get time off for family vacations or to see their doctor.
“That’s how RTD runs, they don’t appreciate us,” Williams said. “Not only are you told ‘no’ but you’re told ‘no’ in an ugly manner.”
Compensation may seem competitive and the union acknowledges they received a raise during their last contract negotiation but it does not cover the cost to live in the city they work.
“We’re dealing with people who don’t think we’re people, that we have needs,” she said. “We don’t make enough money to live within the city of Denver.”
The requirement to work a sixth day in a week has sent many operators to look for new work, Williams explained. She says the current staffing shortage has forced even the most senior members of the driving team to work longer weeks. She believes the move to reduce service is a short-term fix that will not address this ongoing issue.
“Most of us who do our bus operator, light operator jobs, we like our jobs,” Williams said. “They’re putting a Band-Aid on something that needs surgery.”
But RTD says service has increased 20 percent since 2013 and four years ago they started to notice a shortage in operators. Tonilas says the agency has tried to avoid this kind of reduction but believes it has no other choice at this time.
“We’re sorry, this is an unfortunate situation, we don’t want to be here,” she said. “What we hope we can get to is a reliable level of service that people can count on.”
The plan to cut back on routes is just a proposal at this point. RTD’s board will talk about it on Tuesday and review the proposal on Nov. 12.
To see RTD’s report which breaks down compensation and overtime over the past couple years, click here.