Ac­cess-a-Ride ser­vice in Den­ver gets new provider

RTD ad­dresses too many rid­ers, not enough driv­ers.

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Erin Dou­glas

Driv­ers for the Re­gional Trans­porta­tion District’s Ac­cess-a-Ride ser­vice will have a new em­ployer when they wake up on Oct. 1 — a change that RTD hopes will help solve the prob­lem of grow­ing de­mand in the face of la­bor short­ages.

All Aboard Tran­sit Ser­vices, a lo­cally man­aged para­tran­sit op­er­a­tion, lost its share of a $175 mil­lion con­tract with RTD’s Ac­cess-a-Ride pro­gram last fall. RTD put it up to bid as a re­sult of grow­ing con­cerns that the ser­vice was not meet­ing the needs of pas­sen­gers.

The Ac­cess-a-Ride ser­vice — RTD’s way of ad­her­ing to fed­eral law that re­quires any fixed-route tran­sit sys­tem to pro­vide an al­ter­na­tive para­tran­sit sys­tem for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties — was strug­gling with ca­pac­ity: too many rid­ers and not enough driv­ers.

RTD’s dilemma is driven by low re­cruit­ment and re­ten­tion, said Carolyn Conover, se­nior man­ager of con­tracted ser­vices for RTD. Colorado’s record-low un­em­ploy­ment rate and the un­pop­u­lar­ity of drug test­ing are re­duc­ing driver num­bers as an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion de­mands more ac­ces­si­bil­ity. As a re­sult, rides were of­ten late or had

to take long routes to cover more ground.

“Peo­ple need it,” Conover said. “You’ve got the baby boomers — some of those peo­ple are get­ting older and not able to drive. We’re see­ing more peo­ple be­com­ing aware of (the ser­vice) as an op­tion.”

Ac­cess-a-Ride makes about 2,700 one-way trips per day, ac­cord­ing to Conover, and the ser­vice has 369 ve­hi­cles: 329 ded­i­cated RTD ve­hi­cles and 40 provider ve­hi­cles. It serves the same ar­eas cov­ered by RTD buses in the metro area.

The le­gal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana pre­sented new chal­lenges for the fed­er­ally funded tran­sit au­thor­ity. Ap­pli­cants were turned off when they found out that drug test­ing was a pre­req­ui­site for the job. The pro­por­tion of ap­pli­cants de­terred by the re­quire­ment wasn’t high, Conover said, but it was a fac­tor in re­cruit­ment and re­ten­tion.

“I think a lot of peo­ple will shy away from ap­ply­ing,” Conover said. “Some ap­ply and find out the hard way when they’re pulled for a drug test.”

But more than that, RTD rep­re­sen­ta­tives said Colorado’s low un­em­ploy­ment rate was the driver in the de­ci­sion to put the con­tract up to bid a few years ear­lier than ex­pected. The con­tract had pre­vi­ously trapped ser­vice providers in a cer­tain wage range, leav­ing them un­able to com­pete.

“I think in our cur­rent econ­omy with a low un­em­ploy­ment rate, it is a strug­gle to find em­ploy­ees,” Conover said. “(The providers) are in­creas­ing their hir­ing wage to a more at­trac­tive rate.”

In the spring, Ac­cess-aRide providers be­gan to in­crease wages to start at $15 an hour, Conover said. Pre­vi­ously, the av­er­age was $12.50. More ex­pe­ri­enced em­ploy­ees saw their wages in­creased pro­por­tion­ally past $15 an hour.

RTD of­fi­cials said the change is al­ready re­sult­ing in bet­ter ser­vice — with one or two ve­hi­cles not in use on an av­er­age day com­pared with 20 last fall. Be­cause each ve­hi­cle can take about 10 peo­ple, Conover es­ti­mated that up to 200 pas­sen­gers were im­pacted

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