As Ridership Falls 70%, RTD To Vote On Service Cuts

RTD Hiring During Cononavirus Outbreak
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
An RTD #15 bus advertises for workers on East Colfax Avenue in Denver on Thursday March 20, 2020. during the coronavirus outbreak.

The Regional Transportation District’s board of directors will decide Tuesday night whether to cut service because of the coronavirus that has effectively shut down much of the state in recent weeks.

Ridership on the Denver-area transit agency’s buses and trains has fallen by 70 percent, RTD said, and staff expect it to fall further still.

“The last weekday with near normal ridership levels on our buses and trains was Thursday, March 12th,” Interim General Manager and CEO Paul Ballard wrote to the board Monday. “The ensuing ten-day period has seen a steady and dramatic decrease in ridership that is unrivaled in public transportation history.”

Regional Transportation District
A chart in Paul Ballard's report to the RTD board show the precipitous fall in ridership.

Other transit agencies across the country are seeing precipitous declines in ridership as well, and many have made service cuts.

RTD staff are proposing that service be cut to a Saturday level of service on the bus side and a Sunday level of service on the rail side. Generally, that means buses and trains will come less frequently and commuter-oriented express buses would be suspended.

There are some expectations, including the popular FF1 between Boulder and Denver. The contractor-operated A, B and G lines won’t see any changes yet. Details are posted in this spreadsheet. It would go into effect on April 19 and potentially last until Sept. 20, 2020.

Those service cuts would coincide with another round of reductions, meant to give overworked drivers a break, that is up for final board approval on Tuesday.

“Combined, they represent a significantly reduced level of service that will be responsive to the current emergency, begin to address the reduced revenue shortfalls that are inevitable and provide our best level of support and protection for all our employees,” Ballard wrote.

Earlier in March, Ballard estimated RTD had enough cash on hand for about six to eight weeks of operational expenses. And last week, the credit-rating agency Fitch signaled it was worried about RTD’s ability to make debt payments.

Service would be restored as ridership returns on a “case-by-case basis, hopefully sooner rather than later. We would be excited to return the services prior to September based on ridership,” Ballard wrote.

The RTD board is set to take up the proposal in a special meeting Tuesday night.