With runners left behind, Saint-Louis needs bus drivers

Metro plans to suspend six MetroBus lines and reduce the frequency of the service on 31 others later this month in response to a continuing shortage of operators. Without enough bus drivers to meet the current level of service of the public transport agency, many passengers wait at stops for scheduled buses that never come.

Along a high frequency route like the # 70 Grand, a typical 15 minute wait often turns into 30 or 40 minutes. And a canceled trip can mean a much longer wait along routes where a bus only has to pass every half hour or so. As temperatures in the St. Louis area drop toward winter, St. Louis resident Latoya Smith is particularly concerned.

Longtime bus driver said Saint Louis on the air that as someone who has to be on site at their workplace from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day of the week, the shortage of transit workers has already made her days more difficult and her schedule uncertain.

“I depend on the bus to establish a connection. … It’s very difficult for me to access my job, and then I always have to explain it to my boss. … You don’t know how long you’re going to be out there, ”Smith said.

Metro recently posted some tips to find out how to find out if a trip has been canceled using the Transit app. “Our team is working hard to update the Transit app as quickly as possible, but it’s not always possible to cross out a trip on time,” reads an Oct. 19 Metro blog post, with captures screen of a sample trip included to help the application. runner verification indicates whether the application is actually accurate.

Metro also suggests calling its transit information team at 314-231-2345 if riders experience a wait of 30 minutes or more due to a bus not showing up for a scheduled trip. saying “We can help organize a Lyft ride for you. “

Dutchtown-based bus driver Gina Becnel recently took advantage of the Lyft save option, calling Metro after waiting in the cold and noticing that the Transit app was not updating live. She said she was grateful for the elevator, but sees it as a less than ideal solution.

Evie Hemphill / Saint-Louis Public Radio

Catina Wilson, left, and Mitch Eagles joined Tuesday’s talk show.

“If every passenger who missed their bus took a Lyft, it would just be more affordable for Metro to raise their drivers’ wages,” Becnel said. “And I’m sure that would attract more pilots to fill that gap.”

Local transit enthusiast, Mitch Eagles, notes that not all bus riders have access to smartphone apps – and may not be aware that Metro has turned to Lyft services to fill the gaps In public transports. And he and Catina Wilson, vice-president of Local 788 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, are both sad to see transit dollars shifting to one-on-one ridesharing instead.

“It’s not the metro from 20 years ago,” Wilson lamented. She’s sorry to see cut suburban lines and reduced service along some of the area’s higher capacity bus lines.

Tuesdays Saint Louis on the air, she told host Sarah Fenske what she heard from union members about why some bus drivers are increasingly frustrated or even quitting the profession.

“It’s really the lack of support from management,” Wilson said. “And it’s not an easy job to do.”

The union representative pointed out that the stressors related to COVID-19 were essential and what she described as a lack of empathy on the part of the management as well as “unrealistic expectations” in the era of the pandemic. .

“Work stress and the danger that comes with work, a number of them call it shutdown,” Wilson explained. “And you can’t recruit enough people yet. The management team, I don’t believe, is doing the job it takes to retain the employees who have maintained the system.

Meanwhile, several local bus riders, including Eagles, are working to start a union for transit riders called Bus Riders United STL. All volunteers at this point, the group members plan to start advertising their presence in the transit system next week.

“We’re going to be in transit centers and bus stops as much as we can. … We will share information about the organization and our goals, ”said Eagles.

These goals include giving bus users a stronger voice at the decision-making table.

“These problems have been going on for a long time… and nothing has been done. We hear a lot about turnstiles and security, but security only goes that far, ”Eagles said. “It doesn’t matter to the single mom who waits to come home from work in the dark and her bus shelter is broken, and the bus has been cut back. And now she has to wait another half an hour. It may need to be transferred. Why doesn’t this count as security for Metro and Bi-State [Development]? “

With runners left behind, Saint-Louis needs bus drivers

Hear host Sarah Fenske speak with bus driver Mitch Eagles and Operators Union Representative Catina Wilson – and also hear other passengers and Taulby Roach from Bi-State Development.

Wilson added that she thinks “the system really needs to consider some kind of overhaul and put operators and people at work in a different place where they feel appreciated.”

“We have people [making] less than $ 20 an hour, ”she said. “You can’t live today on that kind of salary. And they don’t get the treatment they deserve when they make this system work.

The discussion also included comments from Bi-State Development President and CEO Taulby Roach. He said in a statement sent to Saint Louis on the air Tuesday morning, Bi-State’s goal “is to support our operators and provide a better public transport experience for our passengers.”

“We did not close when the global pandemic hit our region, so our operators were on the front lines every day providing services to essential workers,” Roach wrote in part. “Their commitment to providing transit service during one of the most difficult times in history has been nothing short of heroic. We need to get more help from our operators as we are affected, like many other transit agencies and companies, by the nationwide labor shortage. “

The transit CEO went on to say that new operators are being hired “to support the current members of our team. We have significantly increased our recruiting efforts and are slowly starting to see some success with the progression of new operator training classes for MetroBus and Metro Call-A-Ride. However, it will take time to bring our numbers back to where they belong. “

Roach stressed his appreciation for the agency’s employees and passengers, and said the November 29 service changes are being implemented “to improve service reliability and minimize or eliminate canceled bus trips.”

“We will be able to better match our service levels with our staffing resources so that our passengers can rely on Metro and know their bus will arrive on time,” he wrote. “This reduction in service and frequency of service is temporary. It is intended to stabilize our service, improve our reliability and improve service for passengers. And as we increase our membership in the coming months, we look forward to re-establishing transit service in the spring and summer of next year. “

Metro Transit is hosting a hiring event this Saturday (November 13) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at its central facility, located at 3300 Spruce Street.

Saint Louis on the air”Brings you the stories of Saint-Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah fenske and produced by Alex heuer, Emily woodbury, Evie hemphill and Lara hamdan. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The sound engineer is Aaron Doerr.


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