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SORTA COO: Bus Driver Shortage 'Not A Funding Issue'

SORTA COO John Ravasio
Cincinnati City Council (screenshot from Aug. 30, 2021 meeting)
SORTA COO John Ravasio says the driver shortage isn't a funding issue, it's due to a lack of people wanting to work.

Weeks following the elimination of Metro bus routes for Cincinnati Public Schools students, City Council held a hearing Monday to allow the two parties to discuss a solution openly.

In a release last week, committee chair David Mann called for the meeting saying he's troubled by the "apparent lack" of collaboration between CPS and the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA), which runs Metro.

Both sides discussed Issues with traffic and safety for students crossing streets. Interim Superintendent Tianay Amat says the situation has caused many issues within CPS, even staff having to work extra hours following school dismissals. She says the district is dealing with late buses and traffic gridlock separate from the school buildings.

CPS Interim Superintendent Tianay Amat
Cincinnati City Council (screenshot from Aug. 30, 2021 meeting)
CPS Interim Superintendent Tianay Amat addressed safety issues with the elimination of XTRA Service Routes as well as staff members working extra hours following school dismissals.

"Our core business is education," Amat said. "We cannot educate if the kids are not there ... We know what the root of the problem is, it's a bus driver shortage, so what are we doing to recruit and hire bus drivers?"

SORTA COO John Ravasio says they're open to discussions with CPS on bus routes, but Metro needs roughly 70 additional drivers. When asked by Interim Council Member Steve Goodin if they're looking into additional federal funds for hiring, Ravasio said it's not a funding issue.

"We're certainly seeking investment for future infrastructure for SORTA, absolutely, but in terms of the passage of Issue 7, other various rounds of government stimulus, it's not a funding issue for us as it is just finding the operators and boosting that staffing and capacity," Ravasio said.

He also said Metro doesn't have the capacity to handle XTRA routes at this time. Council Member Chris Seelbach said the bus driver shortage is due to workers seeking higher wages at other jobs.

"We're seeing this in all service industry jobs that people have discovered during this pandemic that they can go to work for Amazon or something like that and make $30 an hour, so they have no interest making $17 an hour as a bus driver," Seelbach said.

Metro bus operator pay starts at $16 per hour for trainees, with the potential to earn more than $27 within five years. Workers don't receive health, dental or vision insurance until after 90 days of employment. Ravasio says SORTA is in talks with the Amalgamated Transit Union on pay increases.

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority ended student Metro bus routes right as school was about to begin. SORTA says due to the driver shortage the decision was necessary to avoid delaying or reducing services under the Reinventing Metro plan.

CPS says the changes affect 6,000 students. However, SORTA says roughly 4,000 were already commuting to school using regular Metro routes.

CPS and Metro are implementing measures to help with transportation. School staff will provide additional supervision at Metro stops and transfer hubs. Security at CPS will be trained as licensed crossing guards, and some city of Cincinnati crossing guards will assist as well.

Cory Sharber attended Murray State University majoring in journalism and political science and comes to Cincinnati Public Radio from NPR Member station WKMS.