DENVER — The Regional Transportation District is looking for ways to overcome a projected $166 million budget shortfall in 2021, and taking money earmarked for FastTracks projects and reducing service are some the solutions the board of directors are considering.
RTD is struggling amid a national five-year downturn in ridership, the COVID-19 pandemic, the recession brought on by the outbreak and a changing way people are commuting. It’s projecting that next year’s budget will see a steep shortfall of $166 million due to the combination of these factors.
During a study session Tuesday, members of RTD’s Board of Directors examined ways the transit service can continue to operate under the circumstances and with the budget shortfall.
One of the proposals includes taking funds out of the FasTracks Internal Savings Account (FISA), which is intended to complete the three remaining FasTracks projects from the 2004 voter-approved measure – Northwest Rail, the Southwest Extension and the Central Extension. This pot of money is not dedicated to just the Northwest Rail Line, according to RTD communications manager Pauletta Tonilas. How it will affect those projects is unclear.
Another way RTD can make up the projected shortfall is dipping into the future contribution to the FISA, administrative expense reductions and service reductions. The general direction of the board is to use some reserves in 2021, use the future contribution to the FISA, make additional administrative reductions and keep service at the current levels as much as possible, Tonilas said.
RTD was approved in May for up to $232 million in CARES Act funding, which has kept the struggling transit service afloat during the economic fallout from COVID-19. However, even with the federal funds available, the 2020 RTD budget is expected to see a $16.9 million deficit by the end of the year.