The COVID 19 pandemic affected many jobs and industries in the United States in the last two years. One of those that has been materially affected the transit industry and more specifically, a bus driver shortage. This impact has had a tremendous effect on universities, transit agencies and K-12 school systems across the country.
A recent article appearing in the Los Angeles Times reported that the agency needs an additional 586 drivers to cover all its routes. The article also states that the contributing factors to the shortage other than the COVID 19 infections are a competitive labor market and a hiring freeze during the pandemic. This shortage is reflective of the shortage across the country.
As a result of these shortages, transit systems have had reduce schedules and service to accommodate the depleted work force. Riders depending on transit as primary means to get to work, to go to school or go shopping have also experienced longer ride times on the bus. Chapel Hill Transit reported that a traditional ride taking 45 minutes is now taking up to an hour and 15 minutes.
Is this a long-term trend? What options do we have to solve this national crisis? A recent poll in a webinar conducted by Optibus suggests that the resolution involves making more appealing shifts and schedules to accommodate drivers, making higher pay and better benefits, and working conditions. In Los Angeles, the starting pay for a part time bus driver is $17.75. When those drivers achieve permanent full-time status, their pay goes to $19.12. Many employers are experiencing wage inflation to retain employees. Amazon’s warehouse employees are now receiving $18 an hour, up from the previous wage rate of $15 per hour.
As the saying goes, “desperate times call for desperate measures.” Other factors that must be considered to address this shortage have to include an evaluation of the current routes and ridership. There are many software programs and consultants that can assist universities and transit agencies in a thorough examination of routes. The mix of fixed routes and on-demand services must be thoroughly evaluated. Another consideration must include a review of your current fleet. Can you provide service using smaller vehicles such as vans that don’t require a CDL driver?
As part of our new normal, you must be more flexible in examination of our current transit systems. This will require being much more diligent on understanding our ridership demands and addressing them in creative ways. Also, we must place an emphasis on finding ways to attract and retain drivers, by demonstrating our ability to be willing to pay a competitive wage and offering flexibility in schedules.
The time is now to proactively take the measures to ensure that our transit systems are restored to make our services available to those who are so dependent on this means of travel!
Sam Veraldi, CAPP is a member of the IPMI CAPP Board of Directors.