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Capital Metro’s driver shortage continues

Tuesday, September 28, 2021 by Seth Smalley

At Monday’s meeting of the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors, members discussed the transit agency’s critical scarcity of bus drivers.

“As this board has been previously briefed, we are experiencing a significant shortage of bus operators,” said Dottie Watkins, who is in charge of customer experience at Capital Metro. “Our staffing shortage is quite acute and has resulted in our recent service change.”

On Sept. 19, Capital Metro reduced its service commitments to make up for its shortage in bus operator availability, leaving the agency slightly understaffed.

“We are aggressively recruiting,” Watkins said. “So if there’s anyone watching this at home, we are looking for folks with good customer service skills and a decent driving record. That’s really all it takes, we’ll teach you the rest.”

The problem is not unique to Capital Metro, Watkins reminded the board. Transit service and service industries across Austin are experiencing similar worker shortages.

The transit company is exploring ways to rebuild its workforce. “Are there opportunities to lower the age required to be a bus operator? Are there opportunities to look at internships or other mentorship programs to help encourage people to pursue transit careers? Are there opportunities to look at the compensation package?” Watkins pondered.

The company has adjusted the frequency of buses in certain routes to account for the lower volume of drivers. So far, it has mostly targeted the least-used routes.

“Many of our highest-ridership routes we have tried to target as little as possible,” Watkins said.

Board Member and City Council Member Ann Kitchen asked about efforts to communicate the frequency reductions to transit users.

Watkins replied that general feedback from the community has been sympathetic, with people expressing a preference for increased reliability as a trade-off for the decreased frequency of buses.

“I joked with a colleague that we could have not changed the schedules and told you your bus is coming every 15 minutes, but we would have been lying. Because we only have the drivers to give you a bus every 30 minutes. Most people would rather know what the schedule is going to be and have it be more reliable.”

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