Shortage of drivers, absences delay bus service in Charlotte NC

The Charlotte area transit system has been experiencing a shortage of bus drivers since May, and it’s now starting to affect routes, CEO John Lewis said Wednesday.

“In my more than 24 years in transit service, I’ve never been in a position where it’s been difficult to hire bus drivers,” Lewis told the Metropolitan Transit Commission on Wednesday. evening.

CATS has 571 paid bus operator positions, but 74 are open, Lewis said.

There were 107 absences on Wednesday, causing “intermittent delays,” CATS said in a tweet.

Lewis said CATS had more than 100 open positions last month, which is a “record number”. Vacancies have a “ripple effect” that impacts CATS’ ability to provide reliable transportation services, he said.

CATS needs 292 available bus drivers for weekday service, 227 for Saturday service and 151 for Sunday service, Lewis said. Bus drivers have two scheduled days off, but as some of them work weekends, they choose days during the normal working week, he said.

“A portion of our operators are off every day of the week,” Lewis told the commission, the nine-member governing body of CATS.

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Many CATS bus users likely experienced delays on Wednesday, June 22, 2022, after 107 drivers were absent. The transit system is struggling to hire drivers, said CATS CEO John Lewis. Observer file photo

On weekdays, 89 bus drivers are absent, 159 are absent on Saturdays and 230 on Sundays, Lewis said. Vacations and unjustified absences further reduce the number of available drivers, he said.

CATS has only had the exact number or more of drivers needed for scheduled services six times in the past two months, Lewis said. The transit agency has been short of 23 staff on average per day since May 1, with a daily driver shortfall regularly between 40 and 50, he said.

Krissy Oechslin, chair of CATS’ transit service advisory committee, called the shortage and route delays a “transit emergency.”

“We need radical transparency from CATS,” she said. “It’s a real crisis for public transport users when there is a two-hour wait for a bus.”

Negotiate with SMART Union

To address the shortage, CATS and RATP Dev, which runs the agency’s transit services, are in negotiations with the SMART union over increased wages and employee benefits, including schedules. more flexible buses, Lewis said.

“We believe they will be able to negotiate a significantly higher hourly wage for our bus operators under this contract than they have ever had in CATS history,” he said. declared.

CATS “draws a line” by closing the gaps in attendance policy that allow so many drivers to call without discipline, Lewis said. Bus drivers are entitled to 10 unjustified absences per quarter. Any remaining unexcused absences are carried over to the next quarter, allowing drivers up to 40 drivers a year, he said.

“It’s something we see, which unfortunately operators take advantage of,” he said.

Bus shootings

Lewis’ remarks and Wednesday’s 107 absences come after two shootings involving CATS buses.

The WSOC has obtained video showing the moments just before a CATS bus was shot down near the corner of Nations Ford and Arrowood roads in southwest Charlotte on May 18. Jason Wright, 37, has been charged in connection with the shooting.

On February 11, bus driver Ethan Rivera was fatally shot while on the job in a road rage incident, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said.

After Rivera’s death, unions and other worker groups demanded that CATS provide more security for its drivers and employees, including bulletproof shields.

When asked if Wednesday’s absences were intentional, several CATS bus drivers told the WSOC they knew nothing of a planned protest.

This story was originally published June 22, 2022 10:44 a.m.

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Jonathan Limehouse is a breaking news reporter and covers all the major events in the Charlotte area. He covered a litany of other beats from public safety, education, public health and sports. He is a proud graduate of UNC Charlotte and a native of Raleigh.

Melvin Z. Madore