Metro-East News

MetroBus sees its second driver shortage in two weeks. Here’s why there may be more.

Area commuters who take buses operated by Metro, the region’s public transit system, faced delays Wednesday due to a shortage of drivers, whose contract expired at the end of June.

An overall shortage of drivers and a spike in drivers calling off work or turning down extra shifts caused the bus shortage, prompting Metro to warn riders to allow extra time during their commutes.

Metro issued a statement saying, “While we are assigning other trained, qualified Metro personnel to drive MetroBus vehicles, unfortunately, that may not provide enough drivers to deliver the on-time quality service our customers and the region have come to depend on.”

In total, Metro was short about 50 drivers Wednesday. The shortage apparently did not affect Redbird Express buses that take St. Louis Cardinals fans to games from St. Clair Square in Fairview Heights.

Wednesday marked the second time in two weeks that Metro had warned of delays due to an ongoing driver shortage. On July 22, a shortage was announced due to the same reasons.

“In recent days, we have had a higher than usual number of MetroBus operators calling off work or declining addition assignments,” Metro Executive Director Jessica Mefford-Miller wrote in a memo to Metro employees. “As a result, we have not had enough drivers to deliver the on-time quality service our customers and the regions have come to depend on.”

The memo detailed ongoing contract negotiations with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 788. Metro’s contract with the union expired on June 30, but drivers continue to work.

However, St. Louis’ Amalgamated Transit Union Local 778 leaders told KPLR 11 that while Wednesday wasn’t a planned event, workers are “tired of being treated unfairly” and have chosen to not work overtime.

The shortage of drivers isn’t specific to the region. Across the county transit operations are desperate for drivers. According to CityLab, a publication focused on metro areas, cities like Seattle, New Jersey, Denver and more were also facing severe driver shortages.

“With low unemployment rates, Metro Transit is one of many transit agencies across the country finding it hard to attract and retain bus operators. We are able to deliver quality service on a daily basis unless we are presented with a larger number of operators calling off,” a statement from St. Louis’ Metro said.

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Kavahn Mansouri covers government accountability for the Belleville News-Democrat, holding officials and institutions accountable and tracking how taxpayer money is spent.
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