The Lumberjack

Buses running… out of time

Photo by Michael Weber | Part-time driver hourly limits, retirements and failed drug tests have put stress on transit system schedules in Arcata and Mad River.

Part-time driver hourly limits, retirements and failed drug tests put stress on transit system schedules

The Arcata and Mad River Transit System, run by Arcata Public Works Department, is experiencing a shortage of bus drivers. A problem which has affected bus routes and scheduling.

The Red and Gold bus routes now merge into the Orange bus route from 6-10 p.m. on weekdays.

Director of Public Works Doby Class said a few drivers had to retire during the summer for age and health related issues.

Since then, replacements have been hard to come by for Arcata Public Works.

“We’re actively trying to contact agencies, temp help,” Class said. “We’re doing much more outreach than in the past.”

Finding qualified candidates has been the most difficult road block for A&MRTS.

“It’s so hard to find people who can pass a drug test, wants to work with the public, reliable and can drive a bus,” said bus driver Doug Thompson. “Lots of my friends who would love this job can’t (do it), simply because they can’t pass a drug test.”

Class said transit manager for A&MRTS LeAnn Schuetzle, whose main job is to manage the bus system, hire and train drivers, has been driving the bus herself due to the shortage.

A&MRTS also has another hiring predicament which may worsen existing conditions.

The Arcata bus system only hires part-time drivers in order to save on costs. Part-time bus drivers are limited to 1,040 hours a year, meaning that if a driver is to reach their limit, they are no longer allowed to work for the rest of the year.

According to Class, there are current employees who are nearing the 1,040 hour limit and may soon be unable to work. This means their current driver shortage may become worse.

“We’re running on borrowed time,” Class said.

Class hopes that by Jan. 2019 the driver shortage issue will be resolved.

There are proactive plans to get new drivers including a joint training program with Redwood Transit System in Eureka to provide a bus driver’s “learner permit” in order to train new drivers for a B-class driver’s license.

Students and citizens, including retired workers, are eligible for this “bus driver in training” position so long as they are willing to work and can pass a drug test.

Some residents of Arcata have been affected mildly by the driver shortage.

According to Joannah Harris, her old route had been cut off by the new routes.

“I had to get used to the new scheduling,” Harris said.

According to Frank Moldy, the change happened abruptly with no notice and left him stranded at a bus stop. “Let people know, have some ads so we know,” Moldy said.

“It didn’t really affect us,” resident Annie Bernier said. “But, we would be stuck (here) without the bus.”

Beyond the scope of the driver shortage, Class wants to expand the current bus system. He wants Arcata residents to have the same half-hour bus stops that HSU students enjoy. There are also plans with HSU to connect the University with off campus parking south of G Street, according to Class.

“We want to be the best little bus system in the west,” Class said.

Until A&MRTS can solve their driver shortage effectively, future expansion will have to wait.