Driver Shortage Could Cut Joplin’s Transit Services | Local news

VSContingency plans are being proposed by officials in the town of Joplin to cut down on public transport services if there are not enough drivers.

The city’s director of public works David Hertzberg said there were now just enough drivers to operate the Sunshine Lamp carts. If the tram service loses even one of its commercially licensed drivers, there should be a change. A tram supervisor is currently driving routes and supervising in order to maintain the current level of tram service, Hertzberg said.

Trams run through the city on three routes with hourly stops at 60 locations. One of the proposed contingencies would merge the three routes into two, extending the duration of each route from an hour to an hour and a half.

Joplin’s other transit provider, Metro Area Paratransit Service, isn’t as threatened by a driver shortage, as its small vehicles don’t require all drivers to have a commercial driver’s license like the ones do. bigger trolleybus, Hertzberg said. They only need a driver’s license, which requires less technical knowledge. MAPS offers curb-to-curb service by appointment.

City officials will hold public consultation meetings on Thursday, January 27 to provide information to residents on proposed service reduction options. Residents and transit riders can comment on the proposed changes at either of the two scheduled sessions.

Sessions will be held from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. and from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. that day in the Council Chambers on the fifth floor of City Hall, 602 S. Main St.

Joplin receives grants from the Federal Transit Administration to help pay for vehicles and operate transportation services.

City Manager Nick Edwards said the FTA requires the city to have a back-up plan so that if the number of drivers drops below the staff needed, there are options to make changes. Creating a contingency plan also involves gathering public feedback on proposed service changes, even if they do not become necessary.

Emergency options

If the driver shortage worsens, the options would be:

• Reduce CARDS six to three services per day.

• Reduce CARDS to four routes and shorten the cart hours. Instead of using the current tram schedule from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., the start time would be moved to 10:00 a.m.

• Reduce CARDS three-route service and merge the three trolley routes into two which would extend the time for doing the routes from 1 hour to 1.5 hours.

• Eliminate the cart service and continue the six MAPS routes.

Contingency plans also define the triggers that would call for consideration of options. The possibilities are:

• If the current the number of eight MAPS drivers has increased to five; the service will be reduced from six to three.

• If cart drivers were reduced from nine to four and two MAPS drivers were lost, MAPS routes would be reduced to four and streetcar hours would be reduced.

• If there is if there were only five MAPS and three trolley drivers, the shift to three MAPS routes and two trolley routes would occur.

• If there is If only two trolley drivers were still available and MAPS has at least seven drivers, the trolley service would be discontinued and six MAPS routes would be retained.

When contingency plans were discussed with Joplin City Council in an informal meeting on Monday, City Councilor Phil Stinnett expressed concerns about cutbacks in services.

“I’m going to be in favor of none of this,” Stinnett said.

The city had already conducted a study on public transport in 2019. After its completion in 2020, the council authorized city staff to explore the implementation of this study. Many of the findings focused on how to provide an increased service requested by residents and users. This included building a central station to form an hub-and-spoke service with shorter routes emanating from the hub to reduce passenger travel time.

That’s what the bikers wanted, in addition to evening service and routes to industrial and manufacturing areas for workers, Stinnett said.

“He talked about adding routes and adding a central station and… how important that is for a growing community,” he said. “And now here, a few months later, I’m looking, ‘We have to cut. We have problems.

Stinnett said he expects the city manager to address issues that would set transit services back.

“If we don’t pay enough money, we have to pay more. We have to find a way to do it, ”he said. “If we’re going to add a higher rate position, we’ve got to find a way to do it. If we are to reduce the size of vehicles to get out of the CDL license, we have to do it. We have to find solutions to solve the problem.

Hertzberg told The Globe that the expansion and reorganization of public transport service called for in the public transport study is still the city’s long-term goal.

The schools solution

Driver shortage is a situation that Joplin’s public transport has faced since 2015. Three years ago, Saturday service was cut off because of this. and the driver shortage does not only affect the Joplin City Government or public transport.

Currently, almost half of all types of urban driver positions are vacant. But the vacancy rate of tram drivers is more severe, with 66% of open positions, said the director of public works.

This prompted city officials this winter to contract with a private company to provide drivers to work on snow-covered roads if necessary.

“Whether you call Kansas City, St. Louis, OATS or Joplin Schools, they all take care of filling positions,” Hertzberg said.

The driver shortage is also affecting school districts. Many school districts in the region, including Joplin and Carthage, are struggling to find enough drivers for their buses.

As a result, the Joplin School Board approved salary increases and other incentives in September to attract applicants to school bus drivers. This included a pay increase for novice drivers from $ 16.03 per hour to $ 17.53 per hour. Increases of $ 1.60 to $ 1.90 per hour have been approved for higher salary brackets. Quarterly safety bonuses are also paid and overtime is available for drivers to stay on the job during school holidays.

In comparison, the city’s starting salary is $ 12.87 with benefits for full-time drivers.

The increased compensation for the Joplin School District has increased the availability of its drivers, according to Kerry Sachetta, deputy superintendent of operations.

Four drivers have been hired and one is currently in training, and the district hopes the salary increase will allow the school district to replenish its pool of drivers.

“At the start of the year, we cut about nine routes to help us manage the entire student body with the available drivers that we had. Obviously, managing the same number of students with fewer drivers is a challenge, ”said Sachetta. “But our transportation department did a very good job under the circumstances. and our schools, and especially our students and parents, had to be very patient. We have had routes that now have longer wait times due to the longer distances with more students on the buses. We hope that very soon many more people will enter the workforce. We would like to add a minimum of five additional routes and have a group of around six to ten backup drivers. “

Melvin Z. Madore