Tannen Hutton rides the R Line six days a week for work, during off-peak hours. RTD is proposing on cutting service of the R Line during off-peak hours. Photo by Philip B. Poston/Aurora Sentinel
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AURORA | The union that represents Regional Transportation District bus drivers and light rail operators is the latest to sound off on the agency’s proposed service cuts to the recently-opened R Line, which opened just six months ago along Interstate 225 after years of planning and construction.

Julio Rivera, president of the local Amalgamated Transit Union, alleges the root of the problem is not a lack of ridership — which RTD says is driving the reduction proposal  — but a major lack of employees to run the buses and trains.

“RTD is short of about 150 bus operators and 50 train operators, and that makes it impossible to maintain its current levels of service,” Rivera said in a news release. “We know that RTD has hired a lot of people, but we believe the way they treat those new hires causes them to leave.”

Among the grievances, Rivera said drivers and operators work eight hour shifts, much of the time with no breaks. He said one driver recently reported that they lost bladder control because they weren’t given a bathroom break when they needed one.

“The solution for that issue is to re-think the entire RTD schedule to allow more ‘recovery time’ at the end of a trip,” Rivera said. “That time can only be used for a personal break if your bus did not run late, which buses almost always do by the end of a trip.”

PERRY: RTD loses its train of thought and runs over Aurora by derailing the R Line

Rivera said he believes the R Line was targeted for such significant cuts because of ridership, but ultimately sees the move as a way to add operators to other routes because of the shortage.

The cuts would reduce service south of the Florida Station to only at peak times. There would be no service on weekends, but the H Line would act as an interline, so no transfer would be necessary.

When asked about the allegations, RTD spokesman Scott Reed simply called the union’s take “interesting,” but noted there have been hurdles in retaining bus drivers and train operators in the past.  

“RTD knows the difficulties in recruiting and retaining employees in this time of record-low unemployment levels,” Reed said in a statement. “That is why earlier this year we added, outside of the collective bargaining agreement, several incentives.”

RTD increased wages, added signing bonuses and referral bonuses. Rivera said he doesn’t believe low unemployment in the Denver metro area is solely to blame for the high turnover. He points back to the conditions drivers and operators encounter on the job.

R Line riders in Aurora, along with local leaders, also blasted the RTD proposal Thursday night at a community meeting.

Several who showed up to the RTD-led meeting said they ride the R Line either regularly or occasionally, and the proposed cuts would hinder their commute.

Others said they typically take the R Line on the weekends to get to downtown Denver for social events. Under the recommendation the R Line would not run on weekends south of Florida. However, an H Line would be available at the Florida Station, as an interline for riders. There would be no need to change trains.

Increasing bus services to the R Line and better marketing were among the most popular recommendations the crowd gave RTD officials.

Kara Mason covers local, state and national government and politics for The Sentinel. Reach her at 303-750-7555 or kmason@SentinelColorado.com.