PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The largest bus driver shortfall in its history led TriMet officials on Friday to announce it will limit bus services beginning January 9, 2022.
These changes are expected to last indefinitely, until they’re able to hire enough drivers. TriMet officials said they’re short about 45 drivers. But the driver’s union believes that number is closer to 60.
The agency is experiencing their largest operator shortfall in history, despite their efforts to hire new drivers. Earlier this week, TriMet announced they would be offering a $2,500 signing bonus on top of the starting hourly pay of $21.36, which had been increased by $4 in October.
“TriMet recognizes that our service has not been what our writers expect it to be the last several weeks. And for that, we are deeply, sorry,” TriMet’s Tia York told KOIN 6 News.
She said they just don’t have enough bus drivers to cover every route and said they’re dealing with their largest driver shortfall in history.
“And what that’ll look like to most riders is less frequency on weekdays,” she said.
Bus services will be reduced by 9%, affecting 21 of the 84 bus lines during weekdays. It’s about the same percentage of service TriMet cut back in April 2020, in the early days of the pandemic when Gov. Kate Brown issued a stay-home order and ridership decreased drastically.
“By taking this step we increase the schedule reliability so riders experience less canceled or late buses,” said TriMet. They continued saying they tried to maintain servicing in low income and BIPOC communities, along with services that connect to education, jobs, health care and service centers.
Riders can expect buses to arrive about every 15 minutes during rush hours.
Despite the operator shortage, TriMet will be adding services during the weekdays on Line 32-OatField by stopping between Oregon City and Milwaukie.
Bill Bradley with Amalgamated Transit Union said drivers are burned out with all the overtime it’s taken to try and keep the bus system functioning.
“The fact is we’re short and let’s just say we’re short and do everything we can to get people in the door,” Bradley told KOIN 6 News, “but it’s not just get them in the door. It’s keep them, too.”
Bradley said the union believes actual improvements in wages and working conditions is the most durable and successful path for recruiting and retention.
Bradley said when the pandemic started so did the increase in assaults. And it hasn’t slowed down.
“We have an ongoing discussion with TriMet about that. Obviously we’ve reached out to the Tri- county DA’s from Washington Multnomah and Clackamas Counties. We spoke with Ted Wheeler this (Friday) morning about the assault issue as well,” Bradley said. “It’s not something we want to see our members be subject to, and TriMet really doesn’t want to see their employees subject to, either. So it’s going to take a group effort to get that done.”