Southwest Austin - Dripping Springs Edition | March 2022

TRANSPORTATION Capital Metro driver shortage disrupts riders’ daily commute

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Capital Metro has experi- enced increased sta shortages, and riders have noticed inconsistencies in day-to-day bus routes. Capital Metro’s lack of drivers has led to a surge in delays, cancellations and long-term service changes. “I was supposed to be waiting for a bus right now, actually, and it never got here at the right time,” said Ruby Soto, a passenger at a bus stop on San Jacinto Boulevard. In September, Capital Metro published service changes citing a stang shortage made more persistent due to the pandemic. At that time it reduced the frequency of service and suspended routes to better accommodate active routes. “Currently, we are still about 50 operators short from our active ranks,” said Jenna Maxeld, a spokes- person for Capital Metro, through an email interview. With fewer bus operators, it is more dicult to nd coverage when a driver calls in sick. Julie Perez has been an extra board driver with Capital Metro for 25 years. Her role is to ll in for absent drivers, so she drives a new route every day. She has noticed an increased need for extra board drivers over the past two years, but she said it may not just be because of the pandemic. Pay wage disputes and access to equal benets were on the forefront of Capital Metro’s expanded contract with MV Transportation, which went into eect in January 2020. MV Transportation, a Dallas-based contracting service, has worked with Capital Metro since 2012. The extended contract from January 2020 includes overseeing all operations and maintenance services of the bus and transit system of Capital Metro. In hopes of attracting new bus operators, the public transit agency increased wages across the board and added a hiring bonus. New operators now start at $22 per hour and can receive up to $3,500 as a hiring bonus, according to Capital Metro’s job postings. BY JENNIFER CASTILLO, ANA GARZA & KRISTEN TIBBETTS

Perez said she has noticed many new trainees since the wage increase, and Maxeld said the incentives seem to be increasing interest in applicants. “Currently, we have a record number of operators in training, over 60, which means we will have more operators in the eld in a couple of months,” Maxeld said over email. On average, it takes two months for all hired bus operators to train for and receive a commercial driver’s license, according to Capital Metro’s hiring page. Even though Capital Metro is hiring more drivers, not all are actively working, causing a delay, Perez said. Riders are still experienc- ing disruptions to their commute. For all MetroBus routes in Decem- ber 2021, buses arrived on time 79% of the time. This is a decrease from before the pandemic in December 2019 when routes were on time almost 84% of the time, according to Capital Metro’s performance dashboard. Derek Webster does not own a car and uses the Route 10 bus. He relies on MetroAlerts, an email and text service that noties users of service changes. However, he said he notices inconsistencies in these alerts. “This time [the bus] was supposed to be here at 10:27 a.m., according to the Metro message,” he said. The bus did not arrive on time, and Webster waited an extra 15 minutes for the next arrival. “So that is not accurate,” he said. “They report on buses that simply don’t exist.” Not all riders share the same expe- rience as Webster. Willy Brown, who takes the Route 20 bus to the River- side neighborhood, said he believes many riders are just impatient. “Routes are running faster,” Brown said. “They want them to arrive [even] faster.” Capital Metro’s total ridership for January was over 1 million on the MetroBus. Ridership typically increases with tourism-driven events such as South by Southwest Confer- ence & Festivals, and Austin FC home games returned in February. For many regulars, they said the

Capital Metro has seen a shortage of drivers that has aected its ability to sta bus routes. (Jennifer Castillo/Community Impact Newspaper)

NOWARRIVING A shortage of Capital Metro bus drivers has aected the agency’s on-time bus performance since 2020.



95% 90% 75% 85% 80% 0


2020 2021


RIDING THEWAVE Ridership on Capital Metro services dropped in half at the start of the pandemic in spring 2020 but has slowly rebounded. The lowest point was in February 2021 when Winter Storm Uri caused statewide power outages.


2.6 million


1.9 million











constant changes have made it dicult to nd condence in Capital Metro services, and passengers want more improvements. Capital Metro said it continues to strive for equal and eective service for all riders with the sta it has. “On a daily basis, we spread our resources across routes to ensure no one route is adversely aected,”

Maxeld said via email. Jennifer Castillo, Ana Garza, Kris- ten Tibbetts are reporting fellows for a Community Impact Newspaper and University of Texas at Austin partner- ship with a focus on our growing and diverse neighborhoods. The project is supported by the school of journalism and media’s Dallas Morning News Innovation Endowment.



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