More metro bus service cuts planned for Monday as driver shortage continues | Policy

ST. LOUIS — Another round of bus service cuts takes effect Monday as Metro Transit continues to try to deal with a shortage of drivers and mechanics.

Metro officials say overall bus service on the Missouri side of the metro area will be reduced by about 5%. This is in addition to a 10% reduction that took place at the end of November for the same reason.

“This is an additional adjustment,” Bi-State Development Agency CEO Taulby Roach, who oversees Metro, said Thursday. “It’s about having the service on the street that matches…the employment resources we have and also the demand.”

Eighteen Missouri routes will be affected, most by reducing the frequency of scheduled buses.

For example, overnight service on Route #70 Grand in St. Louis will be reduced to once every 30 minutes from the current 20 minutes.

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In another example, the frequency of daytime buses on Route #35 Rock Road in St. Louis County will also be reduced from 20 to 30 minutes on weekdays.

But unlike November, no routes will be completely suspended. This then happened with six routes.

Driver shortages also led Bi-State to cancel Redbird Express service from St. Clair Square in Fairview Heights to and from Busch Stadium for Cardinal games this season. This had been done by contract with the St. Clair County Transit District.

However, regular Bi-State bus routes for the Transit District will not change.

Roach said a key goal of Missouri’s route reductions is to minimize the number of times buses don’t turn up as scheduled.

Last month, this happened 2,974 times, or 3.3% of total bus journeys. Although down significantly from 5,500 missed trips in November, this remains a concern.

Roach said the changes are necessary to meet a core part of Metro’s mission to its customers – that “when we say we’re going to show up, we’re going to show up.”

Metro has taken a variety of steps to try to address its driver shortage, including raising starting salaries for new hires and offering $2,000 signing bonuses.

Roach said that while the shortage has “regressed modestly” through these and other efforts, it remains difficult. As of March 10, according to the agency, 122 bus operator positions were vacant, more than 15% of budgeted positions.

call-a-ride

Another problem the agency faces is the lack of operators of its Call-A-Ride van service used by many people with disabilities.

Last week, the agency had a Call-A-Ride vacancy rate of over 26% with 52 of 201 vacancies. About one in four van trips requested last month could not be completed due to lack of availability.

In an attempt to reduce demand for the service, Metro launched a pilot program last June to offer free passes on regular and MetroLink buses to those who qualify for Call-A-Ride under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The program, which Roach recommends extending for a year, is for some people with disabilities who may be able to use buses and trains in some cases.

The program is expected to save Metro more than $500,000 annually and reduce costs for affected customers, who pay fees to use Call-A-Ride.

“On-demand service is our most expensive service per trip,” Roach said. “It just makes sense to move…volunteer customers to our regular bus service.”

1-car MetroLink trains

The shortage of MetroLink operators has not been as great – about 7% of total vacancies last week – and has not caused a reduction in service.

But due to reduced demand from pandemic-related customers that has yet to recover, Metro on Monday began a two-week trial to run trains with one car instead of its usual two cars.

Metro also claims that using a single car would cut machine wear and tear in half and that a single car would be more efficient for security personnel to patrol.

Originally published 6:45 p.m. March 17.

Melvin Z. Madore