Without enough drivers to maintain its current routes and schedule, the Regional Transportation District (RTD) is considering closing some routes entirely and reducing the frequency of others. At the same time, both Democratic and Republican legislators are discussing whether they should step in and force changes to one of the geographically largest transit organizations in the country.
If the area RTD served were its own state, it would be roughly the size of Delaware and, with more than 300,000 daily boardings, service cuts are likely to have a sizable impact on the Front Range. In North Denver, the main proposed cut would be to a line running along Colfax: an arterial street in a working class community.
There’s serious issues going on.– RTD Board Member Angie Rivera-Malpiede, who represents North and West Denver
Rivera-Malpiede served from 2010-2014 and was elected to another 4-year term in 2019; she said RTD was previously considered a world-class system, but has struggled in recent years. Rivera-Malpiede usually takes RTD herself, purchased a car only recently, and she believes her direct experiences help guide her role as board member. Her colleagues apparently agree, as Malpiede was elected chair of the 15-person board at a meeting earlier this month.
She said she’s proud of much of the work they are doing, including subsidies to make passes more affordable for young people and working families, and believes RTD is working toward other positive changes to help retain more drivers. Both RTD staff and directors have identified the work hours and mandatory overtime as problems: many drivers have had to work split shifts each day, which are rarely popular. Drivers must also be able to pass a drug test, including not using legal marijuana off hours, which eliminates around 1 in 5 Coloradans from being eligible. RTD staff said that prohibition is due to federal funds being part of their budget.
To attract more drivers, RTD has increased wages to start at $19.98/hour plus benefits, a $2,000 bonus after six months and a $1,000 referral bonus.
Meantime, driver shortages mean RTD will push forward with a series of public forums to discuss potential route cuts before making a final decision, possibly in May.
Adding to the questions about RTD’s functionality is a change of leadership. RTD’s current General Manager and CEO Dave Genova is retiring Jan. 20 after 26 years of service with RTD. Interviews for his interim replacement were just completed.
State lawmakers considering RTD restructure
While RTD has an independently elected board, the district is essentially subservient to the state, which created the RTD system and dictates various aspects of its budget. Two Jefferson County Democratic legislators, Sen. Rachel Zenzinger and Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharpe have been saber-rattling about restructuring RTD if they don’t see improvements to service. At the same time, Arapahoe County Republican Sen. Jack Tate is introducing a large reform bill this session.
While the final bill, including co-sponsors, was not available when The Denver North Star went to press, we were able to review a draft version. Among the key points:
- Additional oversight, including directing the state auditor to perform financial audits, subjecting RTD to the same ban on gifts the legislature has and directing RTD to live-stream public meetings.
- Clarifies and adds additional anti-discrimination policies, including adopting the public access provisions found in the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Among other points, the bill defines “discrimination” as both intentional and disparate impact discrimination, which could have ramifications on RTD’s hiring practices (which are the subject of a current lawsuit).
- Creates two new board positions (increasing from 15 to 17) to be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state senate. One is designated to advocate for people with disabilities and the other to advocate for disadvantaged populations. It also creates two more non-voting, ex-officio positions, placing the treasurer and director of CDOT on the board.
Rivera-Malpiede pushed back on the need for such a bill, saying “we’re all committed to regionalism and inclusion.” She said she is bothered that legislators hadn’t talked to her prior to drafting legislation but that she was looking forward to sitting down with Sen. Tate and others soon.
Anyone interested in attending RTD public meetings, applying to drive for RTD or wanting to contact their board member can learn more at rtd-denver.com or by calling 303-299-6000.