Driver shortage forces MTA to reduce bus service

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Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — With bus operators leaving the county’s largest transit agency at higher rates than replacements are being hired, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has announced it will temporarily reduce bus service beginning Feb. 20 to avoid more unexpected cancellations.

The MTA Board of Directors voted Jan. 27 to reduce service due to a bus operator shortage. Between Dec. 13 and Jan. 12, several bus lines had 20% or more of their trips canceled due to the shortage, according to a staff presentation given to the board.

MTA officials said the cancellations disproportionately impact “equity focused communities,” particularly in South Los Angeles.

The MTA said it is working to “reduce service strategically throughout the network with (an) equity lens” using its NextGen Bus Plan as a framework, and working to have no change to the NextGen route network or operating days and times, officials said.

The NextGen Bus Plan is the MTA’s re-imagined bus system that was implemented last year. The goals of the plan were to double the number of frequent bus lines, provide more than 80% of bus riders with 10 minutes or better frequency, improve service and ensure a quarter-mile or less walk to a bus stop for 99% of riders.

As the MTA aims to reduce cancellations during the operator shortage, service will temporarily be reduced based on a line’s tier within the NextGen Bus Plan. The first tier, which typically has service every 5-10 minutes on weekdays and 7.5-15 minutes on weekends, may be temporarily reduced to 5-15 minutes on weekdays and 7.5-20 minutes on weekends.

Beginning Feb. 20, bus service will be reduced by 800,000 “revenue service hours” or the time per year that a vehicle is available for service.

The MTA hopes to begin service restoration in June at the earliest.

Transit officials said the reduction of operators has occurred due to a “perfect storm” that includes the national labor shortage, attrition greater than hiring and employees contracting COVID-19.

Bus operators began to leave the agency at higher rates than they were being hired in July 2021. Since that time, 356 bus operators have left the agency and only 207 have been hired. In December, 11 were hired and 32 left.

According to the MTA, reasons for people leaving include retirement, personal reasons, misconduct, new job acceptance and unsatisfactory performance.

The agency has about 3,119 bus operators, and needs to add an additional 448. It’s also down 28 rail operators, with only 298 currently working.

The bus operator shortage has increased bus service cancellations to about 10%-15%, up from the pre-pandemic cancellation average of about 1%-2%, officials said.

To hire additional bus operators, the MTA is considering increasing their pay from $17.75 to $19.12 an hour as a six-month pilot. It also will set up career kiosks at Rosa Parks/Willowbrook, East L.A. and Wilshire/Vermont stations in April.

In order for full service to be restored, the MTA said it will need to have no more than 30 new COVID-19 cases per month among operators, have at least 3,677 bus operators and 326 rail operators, and reduce systemwide bus service cancellations to 2%, down from the current 10%-15%.

The agency will also have to reduce its “mandatory call back” to 200 per week, down from the current average of 800. The call backs are a process in which the MTA orders staff to work on their days off, which has been occurring during the operator shortage.

 

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