TransitCenter report examines transit operator crisis
A new report from TransitCenter examines the bus operator crisis impacting public transit by looking at the many factors fueling the crisis and offering several solutions to combat it.
The report, “Bus Operators in Crisis – The Steady Deterioration of One of Transit’s Most Essential Jobs and How Agencies can Turn Things Around”, is authored by Chris Van Eyken and presents the problem in stark numbers:
- 71% of agencies reported to the American Public Transportation Association that service had been cut or delays had increased due to a lack of operators;
- Nine out of 10 agencies report having difficulty hiring new employees, with bus operations being the hardest to fill;
- Two-thirds of agencies report similar challenges with worker retention.
The report says the operator shortage is causing delayed expansions, acting as a barrier to the industry’s recovery from the extreme loss of business caused by the pandemic, and disproportionately impacting communities of color.
The report says that apart from the pandemic, rising retirement rates, recruitment difficulties, security concerns and the perception that operator positions are not seen as attractive all compound the challenge.
“Although the problem is multifaceted, many solutions are well within the control of relevant agencies. By taking steps to improve job quality now, agencies can build a stable, healthy and satisfied 21st century workforce,” the report states.
The report offers potential solutions that federal and state governments and transit agencies can implement, but notes that job quality should be a priority among agencies and within the transit industry.
“Operators are the backbone of the transit industry – they deserve better pay, avenues for advancement and the ability to influence their working conditions. Agencies also need to speed up hiring processes, introduce more work flexibility, improve operator facilities and equipment, and implement additional health and safety measures, both to attract new entrants and retain existing employees,” the report said.
The report offers eight steps to help boost both operator recruitment and retention.
Improving hiring means getting more people interested in the door, and the report says “agencies need to present a more compelling pitch to potential hires.” This includes clearly communicating total compensation packages. It could also involve hiring bonuses and a bit of marketing magic by focusing on the operator role as a career path, not just a job.
Modernizing the hiring process by making applications web-accessible, easy to find, and shareable on social media platforms can expand the potential hiring pool. The report also indicates that applications should not go unanswered. Additionally, agencies should find ways to help applicants without CDLs obtain them; the report says that while this covers the cost of permits and applications, it is one less hurdle the applicant has to face.
The report urges that starting salaries be competitive and considered middle class in the service area. There also needs to be a clear and fast path to median salaries that can act as a retention tool.
Employee health and well-being can be improved by improving access to restrooms and improving employee facilities. Access to toilets can be improved by working with community partners and businesses who could be compensated to allow access or routes to be adjusted to start, end and stop at transit centers equipped with these facilities. Depots and break rooms provide an additional opportunity to put employee health and well-being first with enhanced spaces that provide physical activity, relaxation and rejuvenation.
Operators need better support in their care and life and the report recommends agencies provide mentoring options, better mental health support and professional development.
Operator safety should be a priority, especially for bus operators who are rarely separated from the rest of the bus, making them vulnerable. Additional potential points of contention, such as fare collection, should be removed from operator responsibilities. Finally, the report recommends improving the accessibility of bus stops, which will involve municipal partners, to facilitate the boarding of people using mobility devices, which will keep operators in their place and focused on the customer service aspects of their job.
Although the report acknowledges the logistical challenges associated with giving operators greater control over their schedules, reducing the use of rotating shifts, split shifts and mandatory overtime will reduce the risk of burnout. among operators. The report suggests that offering a pay differential for certain shifts can encourage all seniority levels to take shifts rather than leaving them to new hires. Additionally, finding ways to support childcare or other caregiving needs will help employees with irregular shifts. The report suggests speaking to operators with children to ask them what help might be needed.
On that note, the report encourages agencies to proactively engage operator feedback and identify issues before a crisis level is reached.
Solutions for state and federal levels
The report also offers several suggestions on what could be implemented at the state and federal levels to help address the shortage of transit operators.
The report acknowledges that while “transit agencies bear the primary responsibility for changing the working conditions” of operators, state governments can support and fund transit operations, accelerate CDLs, and support and expand programs second change. A recent example of a second-chance program is the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority’s JOB1 Career Solutions On the Job Training partnership, which provides training to non-violent offenders who meet the requirements of the New Orleans Penitentiary’s auto mechanic apprenticeship program. state of Louisiana upon their release. The program was announced in December 2021 and entered its second phase in May 2022.
At the federal level, the report suggests that driver safety be elevated to a national issue, an interagency task force be formed, drug testing guidelines be revised, new guidelines and an FAQ regarding sources funds that can be used to address the shortage of operators and mechanics. , launch a nationwide campaign to recruit operators and mechanics, and use public and media appearances by senior U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Transit Administration officials to highlight the problem.
“To begin to end operator shortages, the transit industry as a whole must recognize the vital role that operators play and work to increase position attractiveness. Transit operators are the backbone of the transit industry; they must be held in esteem and treated fairly if we are to see a thriving transit industry,” the report concludes.
The full report is available on the TransitCenter website.