Bay Area facing bus driver shortage as transit agencies look for solutions

Data shows transit agencies are down at least 200,000 drivers nationwide, although that number is likely higher due to COVID.

ByTim Johns via KGO logo
Thursday, October 27, 2022
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A growing shortage of bus drivers is causing issues nationwide and here in the Bay Area as transit agencies are hoping to fix the problem.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- It's said the wheels on the bus go round and round. But increasingly, there's been fewer people available to drive those buses.

"We sort of saw this coming and didn't really prepare ourselves well," said Chris van Eyken of TransitCenter.

It was a main topic of discussion at Wednesday night's AC transit meeting, where board members called it a "bus operator crisis."

Nationwide, the latest data shows transit agencies are down at least 200,000 drivers, although that number is likely higher due to the effects of the pandemic.

MORE: Massachusetts taps National Guard to help school districts amid bus driver shortage

Experts say there are multiple factors causing the shortage.

"Our transit jobs are concentrated in high cost of living cities for the most part. And those wages just aren't enough to pay for operators to live in the service areas that they're driving in," van Eyken said.

On top of worries about salary and cost of living, safety concerns and the physical impacts of the job are also of concern.

The average worker in the industry also tends to be older than in most other fields, causing a wave of retirements only exacerbated by COVID.

"Operators are much more likely to suffer from diabetes or high blood pressure because of the sedentary nature of the job. And having a job where you can't properly use the bathroom makes that even worse," van Eyken said.

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In order to address these issues, transportation experts are urging local transit agencies and governments to take action quickly.

Some of the things they recommend include offering competitive wages, improving employee facilities and ensuring safety for everyone on board.

Moves that many commuting at the Salesforce Transit Center say they can get behind.

"First day I got on the bus I had people going at it. My first Monday, people were yelling at each other and upset. So, it was a welcome back to commuting," said commuter, Jordan Perlman.

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