MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Metro Transit hopes an apprenticeship program will help attract new bus drivers. Right now, they’re dealing with an acute shortage.

There are currently 1,500 bus drivers and more than 80 openings to be filled.

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The need is so great, some routes have been canceled because of the driver shortage.

Metro Transit bus drivers handle 130 different routes and are responsible for more than 260,000 trips a day.

The apprenticeship program is designed to give drivers on-the-job training with a mentor.

“It matches up new trainees — people who are just coming out of their initial five weeks of training — with veteran bus operators to help teach them the ropes, put their arm around them when they have questions and need that advice from someone other than a trainer or a manager,” said Brian Funk, chief operating officer for buses.

Funk says new drivers who stay on the job for the first year typically enjoy long careers at Metro Transit.

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The union that represents drivers, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005, says it pushed for the apprenticeship program and will continue to work with Metro Transit until they hire enough drivers.

Eighty new drivers have been hired over the past two months, but Metro Transit still has a need for more drivers.

“Each month we see about 14 to 16 operators moving into other positions within the company, taking promotions or other jobs, or they are leaving service because they’ve had a great career and want to enjoy retirement,” Funk said.

Union reps say recent attacks on drivers by passengers have not helped with recruiting, but they believe the apprenticeship program will help new drivers understand and handle those threats.

The goal is to hire 200 new drivers in the next couple of years, and Metro Transit hopes its new program will get them there.

Union representatives say they were concerned about new drivers not getting enough training.

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They now believe this apprenticeship program is what’s needed to make sure drivers are successful behind the wheel.

Reg Chapman