By Reg Chapman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Close to 200 cancelations of Metro Transit bus routes this weekend kept many commuters waiting for a ride.

The cancelations are due in part to a shortage of bus drivers. That’s the case not only in the Twin Cities, but in other cities across the country.

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Acting Chief Operating Officer Brian Funk says people connected to Metro Transit’s alert system did get messages when routes were cancelled. He believes the driver shortage led to the cancellations.

“We know that if we told you we’re coming, we need to be there, and it’s not fair when that doesn’t happen,” Funk said. “So that’s our mission, that’s what we’re aiming towards and setting those expectations that people can plan by.”

He says Metro Transit is working hard to get new employees in the driver’s seat to keep buses rolling along. The transit operator has increased its starting wage to more than $21 an hour. Officials hope that signing bonuses and paid training will also attract the more than 100 drivers needed immediately.

(credit: CBS)

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“You don’t need your commercial license today, you don’t even need a permit today. But if you come in to our hiring events, we’re able to streamline that,” Funk said. “We check your qualifications, you get an interview, you’ll have a conditional offer, then we’ll help you get that learners permit so you’ll be able to start with us.”

The union representing bus drivers agrees there is a shortage of drivers, but it believes there are multiple factors behind the issue. ATU Local 1005 president Ryan Timlin believes driver exhaustion is also causing many routes to go unmanned.

“We’ve also had a few people just quit because they can’t handle, like, the stress out there right now … a lot of the unsafe situations developing,” Timlin said. “Exhaustion from having to deal with COVID. There’s also an exhaustion developing right now of a lot of people that were filling in for the overtime are starting to get worn out. They just can’t keep doing it because of the shortage of the operations.”

Both sides agree help is needed to put an end to route cancellations.

Ridership has increased over the past two month. Officials believe $1 fares until the end of October is helping.

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Metro Transit has four job fairs planned.

Reg Chapman