TriMet to reduce bus services, citing ‘severe workforce shortage’ –

TriMet will return to early-pandemic level services as it contends with a major staffing shortage.
Starting Jan. 9, TriMet will reduce bus services due to an extreme shortage of bus operators.
The Portland-area transit agency said the current driver shortage is the worst in its history, and that TriMet would be temporarily reducing service levels by 9%.
That means TriMet will reduce weekly bus service on about 20 of its 84 bus lines. TriMet Spokesperson Roberta Altstadt said services will be less frequent on weekdays for those lines, and most affected lines will follow Saturday schedules. Altstadt said riders should check TriMet’s online trip planner after Jan. 9 for the most accurate schedules.
As of this week, Altstadt said the agency was short 45 operators.
The agency dropped service levels by about that much in April 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic led to a nearly 70% decrease in ridership. Public transit use slowly began to tick upwards again, but TriMet has had trouble recruiting workers to join the agency — a problem it hasn’t historically faced.
Altstdat said TriMet has stepped up hiring efforts, holding job fairs and recruiting at military bases — a new endeavor for the agency.
She said TriMet also recently began offering a $2,500 hiring bonus to new employees, and increased bus operator starting pay by $4 an hour.
Bill Bradley, an executive board member with Amalgamated Transit Union 757, the union that represents about 2,700 TriMet workers, said the shortage has resulted in about 50 to 60 bus runs canceled per day. He also said the union believes the current worker shortage is around 60 — higher than what TriMet reported.
He said operators have been overworked and burned out for the last several months. The agency saw an uptick in assaults on operators around the beginning of the pandemic, which Bradley said has not decreased. The stressors and dangers have taken a toll on operators, he said.
Bradley said union members have spoken with the district attorneys of Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties, as well as the mayor, about assaults on drivers.
“Assaults still play a big role in the demoralization of the workforce,” he said.
Altstadt said TriMet faces the same worker shortages as many transit agencies and businesses across the country that are competing for workers with commercial driver licenses.
Bradley said the recent hiring bonus is a positive, but he hopes to see TriMet focus on long-term retention.
“A one-time bonus is something,” he said. “But employees are getting burned out. It has to be worth it.”
—Jayati Ramakrishnan
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