Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD) organization is having great difficulty maintaining its services. Over the last couple of months RTD has cancelled many of its normal routes, both for its light rail services and its bus services. Almost every day, the local news in Denver run segments on the problems that this is causing for commuters of all kinds across the metro area along the front range in Colorado. Interviews with people waiting for missing trains or late buses is a common news item on radio and TV.
RTD spokespeople have talked on air about the cancellation of several routes across the city that have been running for years but are no longer available now. New light rail lines recently completed run less trains than originally scheduled. People who depend on public transportation are hit hardest. They find it more and more difficult to get to work on time, get home from work, and even to the store.
Why is this now happening? RTD has been serving the city somewhat efficiently for 50 years. The transportation district was formed in 1969. The district covers the six Denver Metro counties plus two city/county jurisdictions from Weld County to northern Douglas County. Everyone who lives in those counties pays 1% sales tax on their purchases. The budget of RTD is $675.5 million, which is a fair amount of money. They have been expanding the light rail in recent years significantly (which is a silly thing, which I will cover in another post). Light rail boardings have fallen since 2015 despite budget increases in excess of 40%.
Management says they are having trouble finding enough drivers for all their routes. They say it’s because the economy is booming so much that drivers are hard to come by. I’m not kidding. They are even expanding their recruitment to neighboring states.
Drivers say that they are not treated with respect. They are expected to routinely work six day weeks, sometimes 13 hours per day.
Riders, of course, are not pleased. They are receiving last minute notices of cancelled routes, both for the light rail trains and for buses.
Everyone is asking, “How can we fix this?” The RTD board is only asking the union for concessions in the route cutting.
Union representatives are correct when they say, “RTD needs to revamp corporate culture to make it a better place to work.”
There is clearly a problem at RTD, and I don’t think it is because the economy is booming. If there are disgruntled employees, it’s management’s problem. Drivers will only comment on the conditions they experience off-camera. There is an antagonism between management and workers. This is not unusual in many organizations.
For years, I suspect, RTD management has been treating its workers with Command and Control style management. The workers are just assets to move around. They are not treated with respect or given any power or input to change their conditions.
Any company that has a built in budget not based on their own sales is in a remarkable position. RTD already has the budget to hire the workers it needs. The only reason they cannot hire enough drivers is the working conditions and attitudes that the workers encounter. The workers are powerless to change that in a Command and Control environment. Drivers are leaving and letting their friends and acquaintances know that RTD is not a good place to work.
The solution to RTD’s seemingly intractable problem of driver shortages is simple. Treat your employees with respect and honor and give them power to make decisions for the organization.
In my book, The Magical Manager, How to Crush Any Company Goal with Greater Efficiency, Lower Cost, and Bigger Profits, I cover the simple way to overcome RTD’s crisis. This can work in any organization, public or private without any budget increase or lengthy process.