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Connect Transit Reduces Service Amid Driver Shortage

Bus in Uptown Normal
Jeff Smudde
Connect Transit General Manager David Braun said he hopes a service reduction that will begin Sunday will be temporary after the system hires and trains more bus drivers.

Bloomington-Normal's public bus system said Thursday it has to reduce service because it doesn't have enough drivers.

Connect Transit General Manager David Braun said weekday bus service on certain routes will be less frequent.

"During those peak hours from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and then again from about 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., we will not be running the 30-minute service. We'll only be running 60-minute service during those hours," said Braun.

Braun said the driver shortage has become common to transit systems around the nation.

"I know some are actually cutting routes. Thankfully, we are not to that point. We can just modify our frequency and still provide the service we obligated to provide in terms of coverage" said Braun.

Braun said the service reduction that begins Sunday is in line with the way the system cut service at the start of the pandemic.

"We felt that it was more important to schedule for reliability than to miss trips randomly as operators could or couldn't come to work," said Braun. "We take any modifications in service seriously and understand that changes to our service impacts our passengers, employers and the community. We hope passengers will understand the need for these modifications and that we will do our best to restore service levels as soon as are able to do so safely and reliably."

Braun said Connect Transit hopes the reduction is temporary.

"As we are able to bring drivers back on we will make a decision whether we can put some of that service back on the road and a lot of that will depend on the ridership," he said.

Connect Transit has 88 drivers, but would like to have a minimum of 95, and 105 would be fully staffed, said Braun, adding the agency has hired four new drivers, but it takes five to six weeks to train them, and even that would not bring them to full staff.

"It's just really challenging to attract drivers, especially now. We had some issues initially with our training wage. We have bumped that wage up. We have offered incentives, $1,000 for a sign-on bonus. We have a good starting wage now at $18 per hour, but our top wage is $30. It only takes some time to get there," said Braun.

Other services around the community also are having difficulty attracting workers. First Student, the contractor that runs the bus system for the Unit 5 school district said earlier this month it offers $20 per hour and a $2,000 signing bonus.

Braun noted the two are different kinds of jobs with Connect Transit offering more full-time positions. He said the wage is set, in part, through a labor agreement and cannot be quickly adjusted. He said negotiations will come in 2022.

"It's something we'll have to definitely look at as the market changes," said Braun. "I think we are probably in the middle of the starting wage for employers."

Here are the details of the route changes.

• Weekday routes will start and end as usual, approximately 6 a.m.-10 p.m.

• The BLUE, PURPLE, AQUA, ORANGE & SILVER routes will NOT run peak service (Service will move from 30-minute to 60-minute service during peak hours)

• The YELLOW route will NOT run peak service (Service will move from 15-minute to 30-minute service during peak hours)

• Saturday and Sunday service will remain the same

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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