Most RTD Workers Don’t Have Much Confidence In The Agency’s Leaders, Survey Says

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
This vehicle is “NOT IN SERVICE” at RTD’s main bus repair depot, June 25, 2019.

Just one in three Regional Transportation District employees believe the organization is well-equipped to be an effective transit agency over the next 30 years. And fewer than one in three believe senior staff have communicated a clear plan for the organization’s future. 

That’s according to a survey of more than 1,200 of the agency’s nearly 3,000 employees conducted last fall and presented to the RTD board on Tuesday. It comes at a difficult time for the agency: A driver shortage has pushed staff to propose cuts to service, the agency’s top executive is retiring next week, and ridership has fallen for five years in a row.

The survey included more than 50 questions, from issues of safety and service to whether they feel satisfied at work. 

That count found that 82 percent of respondents say they enjoy their work. Seventy-nine percent plan to be with the organization in a year. Most employees had positive views of their direct supervisor. 

Fifty-eight percent of the respondents gave favorable scores across all questions. The survey proctor, Denver-based consulting firm People Element, said that is a good proxy for how employees feel overall about the organization.

But 31 percent of RTD’s employees are “actively disengaged,” Megan Younkin, director of consulting for People Element, told the agency’s board on Tuesday. That’s higher than the average of 19 percent from other companies that People Element has surveyed, Younkin said. 

That does not constitute a “dire situation,” Younkin said. She said it could be an opportunity. 

"There's hope that we can move the needle," Younkin said.

Employee engagement is directly tied to things like retention, she said. And that’s a top issue for the transit agency right now, which is short about 160 light rail and bus operators. The RTD board is considering whether to approve significant cuts to service because the agency can’t operate at full steam without forcing drivers to work overtime.

A previous survey showed more employees in 2015 had confidence and trust in RTD's leadership -- 47 percent then compared to scores in the high 20s and low 30s for similar questions now.

Board member Vince Buzek said the new employee survey results come at a “critical” time for the organization, as the board is in the midst of selecting an interim replacement for outgoing General Manager Dave Genova. He said the overall favorable rating of 58 percent means changes are needed.

“It’s not good, and we have to acknowledge that,” Buzek said. “And acknowledge that we need to make some improvements.”

Three of the five finalists for the interim general manager position are from outside the organization, and the two internal candidates have worked for RTD for less than five years each. The organization is also in the midst of a two-year “Reimagine RTD” process that could lead to dramatic changes to how RTD is structured where it operates. 

“We intend to engage stakeholders, our riders, and, importantly, our employees and our workforce in envisioning what that future for RTD looks like,” said Bill Van Meter, RTD’s assistant general manager of planning, who helped administer the survey. “I'm hoping that two years hence that vision becomes clear and is fed, in substantial part, by what our employees have to say.”

Van Meter said he takes the low marks given to senior staff as an “opportunity and challenge.” He and other members of the senior leadership team will meet this week to discuss how to address the survey’s findings. Van Meter said he expects employee morale and confidence will rise as the agency finds its next leader. 

“I see where we are now is a unique point in time,” he said, adding: “Where we are right now will be a relatively distant memory in six to nine months.”

The RTD board could make a decision on an interim leader by the end of the month. The permanent position could take anywhere from four to 14 months to fill.

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