RTD’s Board of Directors grants final approval for 2021 budget

With an 11-4 vote, the RTD Board of Directors on Tuesday night gave final approval to a 2021 budget that includes up to $140 million in spending cuts from original projections, indicating the agency will move forward on eliminating nearly 400 positions through layoffs and more than 300 others that are currently vacant.

Though RTD’s finance staff have said RTD revenues could change significantly depending on what happens with COVID-19, ridership confidence and potential new rounds of federal aid, the Board has consistently decided in recent months to choose conservative budget projections and move ahead with cuts. Development of the 2021 budget has taken months of evaluation, with the Board and staff taking into consideration all the variables brought on by this unprecedented year.

Underlying those choices this week is further news of local government restrictions on activity in order to curtail rapid spread of the coronavirus, which they have said is threatening to careen out of control in many metro-area and mountain communities. RTD remains an essential transit lifeline for thousands of workers and people without their own transportation, but new restrictions on restaurants, offices and bars will lower ridership and revenue.

The budget cuts will also include furloughs and wage reductions for some employees who remain at RTD. Those making more than $120,000 will see a 3.5% pay cut for 2021, and those making more than $180,000 will lose 7.5% of their pay.

The 2021 budget does not remove money from the FasTracks savings accounts, meant to accumulate capital spending for future rail and bus transit projects.

Service will remain at about 60 percent of pre-pandemic levels. The budget aligns staffing levels with this reduced level of service. Concerning layoffs, some represented staff will be notified in early December, so they don’t vote on work for the January service change. Other staff members will be notified in early January. All separations will take effect in January.

RTD staff were able to reduce the number of positions lost from more than 600, after revenue projections improved and other savings were found. The unfilled positions and the layoffs will include a combination of union-represented employees and administrative staff.

The Board briefly discussed a letter to RTD from Gov. Jared Polis, asking the agency to delay any layoffs until there is more clarity from Washington, D.C., about the chances for a new round of federal pandemic-stimulus spending under a new presidential administration. RTD received hundreds of millions of dollars during the summer to fill revenues lost from this year’s budget.

Board members noted there is little certainty about Congress and a President-elect Joe Biden administration agreeing on a new federal aid plan to cities and transit agencies. Any agreement might not come for months, well into the 2021 budget year.

They also addressed Polis’ comment that aid from the 2020 CARES Act might have helped RTD avoid new layoffs. That $232 million helped weather a massive budget hole in 2020, saved hundreds of jobs for months and preserved transit for essential workers, but it was required to be spent in 2020.

73 Bus to Bellevue Station at Central Park Station