PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — After nearly a year of driver shortages, TriMet has announced the agency will raise starting pay and increase hiring bonuses for newly hired bus operators beginning April 22.

As of Tuesday, the public transit agency said it will bump up the starting pay for new drivers to $25.24 per hour, and raise the sign-on bonus to $7,500 — a $4,000 increase from the amount previously offered by TriMet.

The increased financial incentives are part of an ongoing effort by TriMet to onboard new drivers, following continued staff shortages and subsequent route adjustments amid the pandemic.

“TriMet must hire more than 300 operators to bring staffing levels back to where they were before the COVID-19 pandemic,” TriMet stated in a release Tuesday. “Recent incentives have resulted in more applications coming in, but it hasn’t been enough to reverse the most severe staffing shortage in agency history.”

The announcement comes less than a month after TriMet increased the hiring bonus to $3,500 on March 28. At that time, the starting pay was listed at $21.84, nearly $4 less per hour than what the agency is currently offering new operators.

Along with the bump in pay, the agency said it will continue to offer new operators a fully paid, seven-week training course, during which the prospective drivers will work 40-hours a week at the new starting rate and will have the opportunity to earn their Commercial Driver License (CDL) certification.

In addition to helping the agency bounce back from labor market challenges, TriMet said hiring more operators will be necessary to restore service for the many locals who rely on the public transit system.

“In January, we temporarily reduced bus service by about 9% as a direct result of the operator shortage. That’s on top of the 10% service cut due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” TriMet said. “Bringing more operators on board is critical, not only to restore TriMet service to pre-pandemic levels but also to service expansion opportunities in the future. We are currently in a phase of continuous hiring, with recruitment efforts extending beyond our tri-county service area to include Washington, California, Arizona, and Nevada.”

According to TriMet, higher pay and bonuses are just the beginning, as the agency also offers a comprehensive benefits package, including low and no-cost health, life, and disability insurance, as well as paid vacation and sick time, and a retirement account.

While TriMet does not require prior experience to apply, potential new operators must have a high school diploma or GED equivalent, a valid driver’s license for at least three years, and a three-year clean driving record to be eligible.

“TriMet relies and depends on our people,” the agency said. “As we look to add back service that was reduced during the pandemic and due to the operator shortage, we’re committed to rebuilding the team that’s kept the Portland metro region moving for more than 50 years.”

For more details regarding applications, role requirements and incentives, click here.