Metro cutting bus service due to driver shortages

With bus operators leaving Metro at higher fares than they are hired, the transit agency will temporarily reduce bus service starting Feb. 20 to avoid more unexpected cancellations.

Metro’s board voted last Thursday to cut service due to a shortage of bus operators. Between December 13 and January 12, several bus lines saw 20% or more of their trips canceled due to the shortage, including the 754, 207, 206, 204, 111, 150, 210, 108, 240, 40 , 53, 117, 115 and 81, according to a staff presentation given to council.

Metro officials said the cancellations had a disproportionate impact on “equity-focused communities,” particularly in South Los Angeles.

Metro strives to “strategically reduce service across the entire network with (an) equity lens” using its NextGen bus plan as a framework, and strives not to alter the route network NextGen or the days and hours of operation, they said.

The NextGen Bus Plan is Metro’s redesigned bus system that was implemented last year. The plan’s goals were to double the number of frequent Metro bus routes, provide over 80% of bus riders with a frequency of 10 minutes or more, improve service, and provide a quarter mile or less walking to a bus stop for 99% of riders.

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As Metro aims to reduce cancellations during the operator shortage, service will be temporarily reduced based on a line’s tier under the NextGen bus plan. The first level, which generally has a service every 5-10 minutes on weekdays and 7.5-15 minutes on weekends, can be temporarily reduced to 5-15 minutes on weekdays and 7.5-20 minutes on weekends. end. Of the rows with high cancellations, 753, 207, 204, 111, 210, 108, 240, 40, and 53 are at the first level.

Beginning February 20, bus service will be reduced by 800,000 “hours of paid service” or the time per year that a vehicle is available for service. Metro aims to begin restoring service in June 2022 at the earliest.

Metro said the operator reduction occurred due to a “perfect storm” that includes the national labor shortage, higher hiring attrition and employees contracting COVID-19.

Metro bus operators began leaving the agency at higher rates than they were hired in July 2021. Since then, 356 bus operators have left the agency and only 207 have been hired. In December, 11 were hired and 32 left.

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According to Metro, people’s reasons for leaving include retirement, personal reasons, misconduct, accepting a new job, and unsatisfactory performance.

The agency has about 3,119 bus operators and needs to add 448 more. It has also lost 28 train operators, of which only 298 are currently working.

The shortage of bus operators has increased bus service cancellations to around 10% to 15%, compared to the pre-pandemic cancellation average of around 1% to 2%, Metro reported.

To hire additional bus drivers, Metro plans to raise their wages from $17.75 to $19.12 per hour as a six-month driver. It will also set up career kiosks at Rosa Parks/Willowbrook, East LA and Wilshire/Vermont stations in April.

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For full service to be restored, Metro said it should have no more than 30 new COVID-19 cases per month among operators, have at least 3,677 bus operators and 326 rail operators, and reduce cancellations. of bus services at 2% system-wide. , down from the current 10%-15%.

The agency will also have to reduce its “mandatory callbacks” to 200 per week, from a current average of 800. Callbacks are a process in which Metro orders staff to work on their days off, which has happened over the past the shortage of operators.

Melvin Z. Madore