Driver shortage forces CapMetro to hit the brakes

The schedule and route adjustments for Capital Metro starts September 19, a shift from drive to reverse, according to chief operations officer Dottie Watkins.

"We just do not have the resources to meet the service commitments that we made when we set new schedules in place in the middle of August," said Watkins.

CapMetro is suspending its E-Bus service for UT students, but the Night Owl service will remain. Other routes with lower ridership will be scaled back and in some cases wait times at bus stops will increase by 15 to 30 minutes. 

Riders, like Shannon Moran, will have to make adjustments on their commutes. "I’ll just have to get here earlier is all, like I said, I’m new to the area, so riding the bus is new to me too," said Moran.

Caleb Woodward, who travels from North Austin to his downtown job, is not looking forward to resetting his alarm clock.

"So I'll kind of backwards plan, to leave an hour earlier, two hours earlier to make sure I get to work on time. But I really feel more for the bus drivers because of the conditions that they work under, and the amount that they are paid is not really enough. There's not enough incentives for them to want to come to work," said Woodward.

A recruitment campaign has been launched by CapMetro, but administrators understand, the promise of a $50,000 base paycheck with benefits is not necessarily going to fill all the empty driver seats.

"Depending on whether or not they are already licensed, our bus operators can get up to $3,500 signing bonus," said Watkins.

The offer is also for mechanics. Keeping those who are still in the garage, or behind the wheel, remains a challenge because of the pandemic.

"It’s worn them out, I think we've really worn out our staff, they are tired, they've been stressed out for a year and a half, and then with the surge in cases, that has come with the Delta Variant reaching our region we've seen an increase in absenteeism related to that," said Watkins.

The driver shortage has not yet hit Metro Rail. A quick turnaround for bus operations is not expected.

"It’s just going to take time, it’s going to take time, vaccination, and then as employment, people just have to step up and pay more," said Eric Scholtes.

The dilemma facing the transportation agency is understandable for Scholtes. "Everyone is having a hard time, I’m a chef, we can’t get people in our industry," he said.

The hope is that services can start being ramped back up this fall. Full schedules may be back in place after the first of the New Year.

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