RTD is going to operate its own commuter rail line, if and when, the N Line to Thornton opens.
First, RTD needs to get federal approval for the G Line to Arvada and Wheat Ridge.
Once the N Line is done being constructed, RTD plans to operate it itself, and not contract it out to Denver Transit Partners, which currently runs the A Line to Denver International Airport, the B Line to Westminster and the G Line.
"It has nothing to do with Denver Transit Partners and where we are with them on the concession agreement. It was mainly a decision that was financially based," RTD General Manager Dave Genova told Next. "We did receive several proposals from them, and in every case, they were, what we felt was, significantly above our internal cost estimate."
DTP is the same group that is suing RTD for $80 million over delays on the A Line.
In a statement emailed to Next, DTP Project Director John Thompson wrote:
"We have a very strong working relationship with RTD both at the project and executive levels. In fact, I'd refer you to the comments Dave Genova made about our collaborative working relationship at both the Dec. 18 RTD media event you attended and in the recent 1000-day A Line celebration video. However, we recognize that our current litigation with RTD makes it unlikely that RTD would feel comfortable selecting us from a public-perception perspective."
In the last year, RTD has reported a bus driver shortage of "close to 100."
So, how can RTD take on a new responsibility, with new employees, when it can't fill the jobs it currently has to offer?
"Workforce and labor is certainly challenging. We're seeing this year that while we still have some room to gain, in terms of hiring more bus operators and rail operators, we are making positive gains. So, we're hopeful to continue that trend," said Genova. "We're also working, too, not just on the wage and benefit piece, but also on other retention things around work rules and quality of life."
Along with the 109 bus drivers needed, RTD has 22 light rail operator openings. And when the N Line needs conductors, RTD will need to hire 28.
"We're going to be creating more jobs and more opportunities. It's going to be challenging to fill them all, but I'm confident we'll get to where we need to be to make things run and make things work," said Genova. "Typically, RTD wages for operators are a little bit higher, that's been our experience, than on our private contractors, whether it's on the bus side or on the rail side.
Once conductors for the N Line are needed, RTD and DTP could be fighting over the same talent pool.
According to Thompson, DTP uses 62 operators. He said they need 10 weeks of training before they're certified so they need to plan ahead.
"It’s something we need to keep an eye on. There are a number of variables that affect our ability to recruit and retain employees, and the overall economy and unemployment rate is by far the biggest. We have weathered some of the historically lowest unemployment rates over the past few years, and we have still been able to maintain the staffing levels required. To be clear, competition will always bring the most efficient result, and we won this business as part of a competitive process. But having said that, we are a good employer – we treat employees well, our management style is one we are proud of, and we pay competitive rates," Thompson said in his email.
"We don't want to be pulling employees from our contractors and then creating a void for them because we're all one big family to deliver the RTD services," said Genova.
As for the quiet zones along the A and G Lines, Genova said he heard positive feedback when he went to Washington, D.C. to meet with the Federal Railroad Administration last week.
But he is still non-committal on a start date for no more horns.
"I would love to say a date. I feel that it's going to be soon. I know that's not real meaningful, especially for people that live close by. I don't want to create an expectation one way or another," said Genova. "It's a number one priority for us, as well as getting the G Line open."
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