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Connect Transit plans route reductions again due to driver shortage

Staff
/
WGLT

Connect Transit, Bloomington-Normal’s public transportation service, is once again planning cuts to existing routes due to a lack of drivers. Early morning and evening routes that have lower ridership will be most affected by the changes that take effect on Sunday.

The Sapphire line that includes service to Rivian, and Redbird Express will not be affected, the transit agency said.

In October, Connect Transit reduced weekday frequency of buses and did away with late evening service on some routes. It restored previous service reductions in May after recovering from a similar driver shortage.

Connect General Manager David Braun said the system is operating about 20% short on drivers, leaving the agency with 82 of the 105 “ideally” needed to run full service with extended times. He said 95 drivers are necessary for regular full service for every route.

Despite marketing jobs heavily, Braun said Connect is losing more drivers than it is able to hire.

“It’s been mostly attrition, we’ve had some retirements, some terminations for a number of reasons, and it’s just been challenging refilling those positions,” Braun said.

Of 10 new hires from the last two hiring classes, only one driver remains, said Braun, adding Connect Transit recently increased hourly starting pay for drivers to $22 and last fall it approved a $3,000 signing bonus.

Braun said each Connect Transit driver is full time, adding the transit agency is exploring hiring part time to help fill gaps.

Braun said a driver’s work schedule that may include early mornings and late evenings may be difficult for some to accommodate, noting many drivers don’t pass safety tests or preliminary drug tests.

Brain said Connect pays for applicants to get their CDL, and is exploring a partnership with Heartland Community College’s CDL program, hoping to attract future truck drivers into driving for Connect.

The driver shortage is a problem across the country, said Braun, citing an October report from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) that indicated 96% of transit agencies surveyed reported a workforce shortage, and 84% said the shortage is hurting the ability to provide service.

“Service hours equal labor hours, and when you don’t have the drivers to pull the labor hours, there’s just no other option,” said Braun, adding there’s no timeline for when service might be restored.

Erik Dedo is a reporting and audio production intern at WGLT. He joined the station in 2022.
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