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Photo credit: AL DÍA Archives
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Bus drivers wanted as SEPTA lacks enough operators

A shortage of bus drivers is cause for SEPTA delays as the transit company works to recruit new hires.

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SEPTA advises riders to expect bus delays with the company experiencing a loss of drivers, and as new recruits begin training.

The shortage of bus operators at SEPTA are due to several factors of a global pandemic, the Great Resignation, and retirements; all of which has left the transit service marketing help wanted signs for more drivers.

Andrew Busch, director of media relations at SEPTA, addressed the issue and shared the company’s action plan beginning this December.

“From March to August of 2020, we put up a hiring freeze at SEPTA during the pandemic that caused us to fall behind with applicants, particularly our bus operators. Retirements and attrition had us losing about 20 people per month,” said Busch.

The application process picked up again this fall to fill positions, a trend Busch says he’s noticed with competing delivery driver companies like Amazon and UPS.

SEPTA holds a headcount of 2,577 bus drivers, seeking 145 new employees to reach a total of 2,722 drivers as determined by the transit operating budget.

On Dec. 13, a new partnership began between SEPTA and Collegiate Consortium, a nonprofit for workforce and economic development, that will help trainees obtain their commercial drivers license (CDL).

“They’re going to provide some free training for our applicants to assist them in passing the commercial drivers license test,” said Scott Sauer, assistant general manager for operations at SEPTA, in a statement.

Since August, the training classes held at a smaller size than average, were aimed at welcoming 28 to 30 new trainees every three weeks. Busch is still working to improve recruiting as he noted classes filled with at least 20 new hires.

Busch says in order to avert bus delays, SEPTA is able to provide overtime pay through funding to their drivers.

Due to federal COVID relief funds in 2020, SEPTA could provide for bus operators during the pandemic, a fund Busch says expects to cover daily operations well into 2024. This is despite SEPTA’s transit revenue remaining down nearly $1 million per day

In the meantime, riders are asked to check travel updates via social media and the SEPTA app for delays and alternative routes, in addition to leaving enough time for commutes.

This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.

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