Quitting Time

Transit systems struggle to find enough bus drivers

Matt Levin Jan 4, 2022
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Higher wages from private competitors and a workforce near retirement has led to a bus driver shortage. Above, a Detroit bus driver poses for a portrait in 2020. Seth Herald/AFP via Getty Images
Quitting Time

Transit systems struggle to find enough bus drivers

Matt Levin Jan 4, 2022
Heard on:
Higher wages from private competitors and a workforce near retirement has led to a bus driver shortage. Above, a Detroit bus driver poses for a portrait in 2020. Seth Herald/AFP via Getty Images
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Later on Tuesday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will release data on how many people are quitting their jobs. The so-called Great Resignation has touched just about every type of occupation — including bus drivers.

As a result, transit agencies across the country are dropping routes and cutting services. That can threaten more than just a commute.

The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System had to cut its bus trips by about 8% because it can’t find enough people to drive.

Mark Olson, who heads marketing for the agency, said that like other transit systems across the country, it’s tried raising wages and offering $1,000 signing bonuses.

“We’re doing things like on-the-spot hiring, where people can get interviewed and actually get a job offer that same day,” he said.

Finding bus drivers was tough even before the pandemic, according to Joseph Kane with the Brookings Institution. The average age of a bus driver is over 50.

“Some of them may have already been reaching the end of their career anyway,” Kane said.

Others have fled to commercial delivery services that often offer better pay and more flexibility.

A driver shortage will only compound the broader labor shortage, Kane said, even if many commutes have been replaced by Zoom.

“Those who don’t necessarily ride on transit every day, perhaps they depend on workers who do,” he said.

And the more routes are cut, the tougher it is for many essential workers to remain essential workers.

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