More cuts to metro bus service planned for Monday as driver shortage continues | politics

ST. LOUIS – Another round of bus service cuts comes into effect Monday as Metro Transit continues to try to cope with shortages of drivers and mechanics.

Subway officials say all bus travel on the Missouri side of the subway area will be reduced by about 5%. This is in addition to a 10% reduction that took place at the end of November for the same reason.

“It’s another optimization,” Taulby Roach, CEO of the bi-state development agency that oversees Metro, said Thursday. “It’s about matching the service on the road … with the employment resources that we have and also where the demand is.”

Eighteen Missouri routes will be affected, most by reducing scheduled bus frequencies.

For example, night traffic on Grand Route #70 in St. Louis will be reduced from the current 20 minutes to every 30 minutes.

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In another example, daytime bus frequency on Rock Road route #35 in St. Louis County will also decrease to 30 minutes from 20 on weekdays.

Unlike in November, however, no routes will be completely discontinued. This happened then with six routes.

The driver shortage also prompted Bi-State to suspend Redbird Express service from St. Clair Square in Fairview Heights to and from Busch Stadium for Cardinal games that season. This had been contractually agreed with the St. Clair County Transit District.

However, the regular bus routes that Bi-State operates for the transit district will not change.

Roach said a key goal of reducing Missouri routes is to minimize the number of buses that don’t show up as planned.

In the past month, this happened 2,974 times, or 3.3% of all bus trips. Although there were significantly fewer than 5,500 missed trips in November, it’s still worrying.

Roach said the changes are necessary to fulfill a key part of Metro’s mission to its customers – “if we say we’re going to show up, we’re going to show up.”

Metro has taken several steps to address the driver shortage, including raising the starting salary for new hires and offering $2,000 in signing bonuses.

Roach said while the shortage has “modestly decreased” with this and other efforts, it’s still a challenge. As of March 10, 122 bus operator positions were vacant — more than 15% of the budgeted positions, according to the agency.

Call A Ride

Another issue the agency faces is how to deal with a shortage of operators of its Call-A-Ride van service, which is used by many people with disabilities.

Last week, the agency had a call-a-ride vacancy rate of more than 26%, with 52 vacancies out of 201 positions. About every fourth van trip requested in the last month could not be carried out due to a lack of availability.

To try to reduce demand for the service, Metro launched a pilot program last June to offer free tickets to travel on regular buses and MetroLink to people who qualify for Call-A-Ride through the Americans With Disabilities Act .

The program, which Roach recommends extending for another year, is aimed at some people with disabilities who can, in certain cases, use buses and trains.

The program is expected to save Metro more than $500,000 annually and reduce costs for impacted customers who pay a fee to use Call-A-Ride.

“The on-demand service is our most expensive service per trip,” Roach said. “It just makes sense to … transfer willing patrons to our bus service.”

MetroLink trains with one car

The shortage of MetroLink operators wasn’t that great — about 7% of all positions were vacant last week — and hasn’t resulted in a cut in service.

But with a pandemic-related drop in customer demand that has yet to recover, Metro launched a two-week attempt on March 14 to run single-car trains instead of the usual two-car.

Metro also says running just one car would cut wear and tear on the machines in half and a single car would be more efficient for security personnel to patrol.

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