Driver Shortages and Service Reductions: The Crisis in Public Transit Continues

While transit systems around the country had reason to celebrate the new funding made available in the federal infrastructure bill, long-term concerns about operational capacity have not been resolved.

Read Time: 2 minutes

November 18, 2021, 7:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Rescue Bus

Tony Webster / Flickr

"[The Detroit Department of Transportation] is making changes to routes across the city this week in an effort to improve service and reduce bus stop wait times," reports Eric D. Lawrence for Detroit Free Press.

C. Mikel Oglesby, Detroit's executive director of transit, is quoted in the article saying that the new schedules more accurately reflect the service currently provided, as the system "grapples with low ridership and a bus driver shortage." To minimize the inconvenience to riders, DDOT is targeting service reductions on low-ridership routes.

" [Oglesby] said DDOT is short about 90 drivers and ridership is down about 50%, from about 70,000 per day to 30,000-35,000 per day," reports Lawrence.

Bus driver shortages pre-date the pandemic—cities like St. Louis, Denver, and Minneapolis made news for cutting trips due to driver shortages in 2019, for example—but the problem has been perpetuated by the pandemic. MARTA also recently cut bus service in the Atlanta region, also citing bus driver shortages as the reason for the cutbacks.

In some respects, public transit seems to be prospering through the pandemic: Stimulus funding prevented the existential crises of Spring 2020, record amounts of new funding has been made available by the recently approved Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), and a growing number of transit systems lowering or eliminating fares.

Despite those reasons for optimism, transit systems are still hanging by a thread (as reported on this site earlier in 2021): Ridership has been slow to return to most U.S. transit systems, the aforementioned driver shortages persist, and the IIJA also provided a record amount of funding for automobile infrastructure.

Most significantly to the future of public transit systems like the DDOT's, the structural deficit of transit funding for public transit operations in this country has not been resolved.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021 in Detroit Free Press

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