DENVER -- When it comes to public transportation, reliability is the name of the game — a game the Regional Transportation District (RTD) has been losing at, a lot, lately as riders continue to experience delays and canceled trips amid a driver shortage forcing the agency to propose service cuts.
RTD said earlier this month it hopes the proposed cuts to service will help fix the problem and provide riders with more reliability. The proposal would eliminate six bus routes, reduce service on countless more, and three light rail lines.
"It's been very difficult. It's been a tough several months," said Pauletta Tonilas, RTD's assistant general manager of communications.
But this worker shortage didn't come out of nowhere. So, why didn't people know about this sooner, and how did it get to this point?
"So, it's been about three years of us knowing that we have had difficulties in keeping operators because it's a great economy," said Tonilas. "We've done a number of things over the past three years and we're now to the point where we had to say it’s time to look at a service reduction."
Tonilas called the proposed cuts painful, but necessary to hopefully give riders more reliability.
However, it isn’t RTD's only issue with getting trains to show up on time.
Another part of the equation involves when operators can call in sick. Tonilas said, under the current collective bargaining agreement with the union, drivers aren't required to provide notice they aren't coming to work until 30 minutes prior to their shift.
"We have to scramble to try to get those rider alerts out and our notifications to the public. That creates a really difficult situation for us," she said. "So, we're working with the union to see what we can do to get more advanced notice."
The lack of notice has left some riders with only five or ten minutes notice their train isn't coming.
Another issue RTD is trying to work on involves how it communicates with riders.
Currently, the scrolling digital signs at each train stations do not provide real-time updates for riders about cancellations or delays instead they show scheduled route times.
"We currently do not have the ability to deliver real time information and changes in real time on the signage that is at all the light rail stations," said Tonilas.
For riders to get real-time updates, they must download RTD's app, look on the agency's website, or sign up for rider alert emails.
Tonilas said it's a software issue RTD is working to expediate, but that fix is still a least a year out.
"We have many, multiple groups within RTD working on how we can enhance our real-time signage at the light rail stations, that will significantly improve our ability to give people information in a timely manner," she said.
In a major city like Denver, many riders like Ryan Dravitz said they would like to see RTD get with the times.
"The message boards don't say anything, the PA system doesn't say anything, so RTD is pretty notoriously bad at communication," said Dravitz.
RTD's board still has to approve the cuts and as the process plays out public meetings must be held in each of the 15 districts that make up RTD.
Right now, Tonilas said the earliest riders could see cuts or service reductions is in May 2020.