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    The Rebel HD-2

Feature

RTC Bus Driver Shortage

todayFebruary 25, 2022 7

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RTC Bus Driver Shortage

By Hannah Dunbar

 

Amidst this ongoing pandemic, the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC) has been severely affected by it. Numerous bus drivers have been out sick or quit their job as a result. People that regularly use the bus had to deal with wait times up to nearly 1-2 hours or more since there is a shortage of bus drivers.

 

According to the RTC FAQ page, buses may not arrive on time because scheduled times are approximate and may vary due to unusual traffic conditions or other significant disruptions along the route. With these current conditions, it’s been far more difficult to have a consistent bus schedule. At first, the RTC was running on a Sunday schedule on weekdays, but they just recently switched to a Saturday schedule on Tuesday, Feb. 22.

“To enhance reliability and to provide a more predictable service for our riders, the RTC will transition to a Saturday schedule,” said RTC Deputy CEO, Francis Julien, “While most routes will remain unaffected, this could mean that a route like the Sahara Express that was running every 15 minutes will now operate every 20 minutes.”

 

The schedule change means that now wait times are even longer than they already were. It also means that the public bus service will run with 12% less service. People who rely on RTC to get to school, work or to medical appointments are now affected and have to find other means of getting around. Whether that is them using alternatives like Uber and Lyft or they have to leave their homes at least two hours early just to get to their destination in time.

 

“Our goal in transitioning to a Saturday schedule is to provide more predictable and reliable service for our customers,” said Julien. As everyone continues to navigate during this pandemic, the RTC recognizes that the impact of COVID-19 and labor shortages are causing severe service delays which are negatively impacting passengers.

 

Officials at RTC sincerely apologize for the significant bus delays and disruptions. They also ask customers to not blame the bus drivers as it is not their fault. There has been an increase in pandemic-related issues with drivers either ill or in quarantine. As of right now, there are a total of 20 bus drivers out due to contracting COVID-19.

 

“We also ask that riders continue to be patient with their drivers,” Julien said. “These drivers are working long days and covering extra shifts on their days off—all through a pandemic—to connect our community to jobs and essential services.”

 

According to Julien, the company is still looking to hire about 80 – 100 drivers to reach their pre-pandemic total. RTC contractors, MV Transportation and Keolis, have been

actively recruiting new drivers for the past several months to mitigate the impacts of the driver shortage and trying to make an effort to get back to the pre-pandemic total.

Typically, bus drivers have a starting wage of $17 per hour. The contractors that they are with also offer competitive hiring bonuses, attendance bonuses, paid CDL Class B training and testing for those who do not have their Class B license. In order to be a bus driver, you must have a B class license.

 

Last year, union members of the RTC in Reno went on strike on August 3, 2021, and on another strike on Sep. 27. Both strikes were fueled by disagreements over a new collective bargaining agreement along with lingering labor disputes with the foreign-based operator of the regional bus service over wages, benefits, and scheduling.

 

In response to the inconvenience suffered by riders, including those who bought bus passes that they were unable to use, RTC made RTC RIDE, FlexRIDE and ACCESS services free for one month through Nov. 19.

 

Another strike happened on Nov. 9, 2021, over the wages of bus drivers. Union President Gary Watson said that the deal to raise wages 4% every year was not going to hold employees in the long term.

 

“A stingy 12 percent over the next three years isn’t going to cut it for our local bus drivers, mechanics, and dispatchers…they will go elsewhere and some already have,” Watson said

 

As of 2020, there was a total of 56,390,930 total ridership, which was comprised of 7,522,450 riders on the Las Vegas Strip (Deuce and SDX) and 48,486,940 residential riders on all other routes. There were 2 Strip routes (Deuce and SDX) and 37 residential routes. As of the Oct. 4, 2020, service change though, there are now 38 RTC bus routes. In December 2021, RTC provided 3.26 million passenger rides and even right now, they’re seeing a continuous increase. Many people heavily depend on public transportation, especially tourists trying to sight see. People come in-and-out of Vegas all of the time.

 

I spoke with an anonymous RTC driver who drives the 104 Northbound route on how the shortage was affecting her. The bus driver has worked for the RTC for over 17 years now. The driver currently gets paid $27.19 per hour. She explained to me that with the new Saturday schedule, that it’s even busier than it usually is. There have been overloads on the bus and she has had over 75 people on a single bus before.

 

The driver also informed me that the bus drivers were being paid an additional $250 bonus per week during the pandemic, but now they aren’t receiving that anymore. She hardly gets any time for breaks with the schedule change, and it’s been double the work since the change.

 

“We have more passengers, less recovery time,” said the bus driver. Especially with the pandemic, people are more rambunctious, and it is a very tough job to be a bus driver in Las Vegas. She informed me that the worst time to be driving the bus is on graveyard shift as there are a lot of homeless people trying to sleep on the bus or sleepless people who walk back-and-forth between the bus.

 

She also told me that she tried informing the RTC that changing to Saturday schedule was a bad idea. The driver believes that the RTC should have just stuck to the Sunday schedule since the wait times are way longer for passengers now. With having no recovery time, it can be very mentally draining.

 

Despite these issues though, the driver told me she enjoys doing her job. She started working in 2004, looking for new opportunities in Las Vegas after moving from California.

 

“I’m a people person. I love my job. I get people from point A to point B to work that don’t have a vehicle. I thank god for my job.  I meet people from all around the world” the bus driver stated.

 

She added on that with the new operations manager, Erin Dixon that it has made it a lot easier. She told me that Dixon is very approachable and listens to the drivers concerns. She’s working very hard to improve the service and safety of all drivers.

I spoke with a Las Vegas local named Sam Martinez, who told me about how she’s been affected by the bus driver shortage as well. She explained that she has to plan ahead a lot more now in case the bus is late or never comes. Typically, she often takes the bus to get to and from work.

 

“The longest I had to wait for the bus was about 45 minutes to an hour,” said Martinez, “It was pretty late at night and I was tired from work, so I was upset that I didn’t get to go home.”

 

Another Las Vegas local I spoke with, who wishes to remain anonymous, also shared her experience when using public transportation. She told me that the longest bus waiting journey she experienced was over 75 minutes.

 

She was waiting for the Eastern bus (110) since the time intervals between buses are 20 minutes, but on that day, two buses were late and were marked as ‘lost’ on the transit app. She is a college student, so is required to be in class on time and depends on the buses to get her there. Fortunately for her, she only has to take one bus to get to college; however, it takes about an hour and a half to get there.

 

“The Saturday schedule has not affected my schedule much because the timings for my bus route have only changed by 10 minutes.” said the anonymous passenger.

 

RTC says it will show thanks to their riders during Transit Rider Appreciation Week with giveaways and prizes. These events will also occur at the Bonneville Transit Center on Tuesday, Feb. 22, and at the South Strip Transit Terminal on Thursday, Feb. 24, to inform riders about the schedule change.

 

The RTC also said it was looking out for the health of its drivers and is in the process of hiring and training potential drivers. Julien encouraged anyone interested in a career as a bus driver to visit the careers page at rtcsnv.com and to apply.

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