Santa Barbara Metro Transit District is canceling trips as it faces a shortage of bus operators. The cause of MTD’s problem is multi-faceted and is rooted in years of industry-wide gaps.
MTD addressed the issue on Twitter on Tuesday, promising continued action to improve service, including aggressive recruitment of new drivers.
Hillary Blackerby, MTD’s planning and marketing manager, told the News-Press that it was difficult to write the social-media posts, but she felt called to transparency.
She said staffing was “tight” before the pandemic. The pandemic reduced service and cut lines. Now with a wave of COVID-19 cases, MTD’s staffing varies day to day.
This week became more daunting with the return of students to some K-12 schools — which MTD provides bus service for, Ms. Blackerby said.
The National Association for Pupil Transportation, the National Association of State
Directors of Pupil Transportation Services and the National School Transportation
Association released survey results at the end of August showing school-bus driver shortages nationwide. Only 1% of respondents said that a bus driver shortage was not a problem for them.
Headlines throughout the country tell the stories of districts who’ve canceled school during a shortage of bus drivers in recent weeks.
Ms. Blackerby said MTD takes health and safety precautions seriously. Drivers who have been exposed to COVID-19 are not able to work until their quarantine is complete.
Dispatchers work to fill the empty routes, hoping to find an available driver until the time of service. MTD is hesitant to share that the route is canceled in case a substitute is found, but it doesn’t want to leave riders waiting at an out-of-service stop, Ms. Blackerby said.
MTD is attempting to create a way to distribute information in real-time but until then, riders can call the transit center at (805) 963-3366 for updates.
Ms. Blackerby said this problem has roots in the ‘70s, when California passed the Transportation Development Act. MTD grew from the funding and hired many new drivers — some of which have just recently retired.
“We’ve got people who’ve been here over 46 years. And as you might imagine, there are waves of retirements happening because of that,” she said. “They’re always retirements in any business, but in transit, in general, it’s an aging workforce.”
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 21% growth for “transit and intercity bus driver” employment between 2020 and 2030, or about 35,000 jobs. It also anticipates an average of 24,600 openings in the field annually during these 10 years.
The median hourly wage in 2020 for a transit bus driver was $22.07, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. MTD offers packages that start at $19.21, plus benefits (including a pension), and rise to $29.23 per hour.
MTD is hiring and will train drivers for their Class B drivers license. To learn more, go to sbmtd.gov/careers.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is funding transit districts at higher levels than previous funding cycles. The five-year transportation budget and the addition of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provide $44 million for MTD.