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Metro Transit Hopes Incentives Will Address ‘Employment Crisis’

A MetroBus driver gives a thumbs up behind the wheel.
File photo / The St. Louis American
Metro Transit is facing sharp workforce shortages, including MetroBus drivers.

Facing a deficit of more than 120 workers, the parent of the Metro Transit system plans to offer financial incentives to entice new drivers and boost compensation for some employees working on their days off to pick up the slack.

The move is further evidence of a nationwide worker shortage that has hit everything from fast-food restaurants to fishing trawlers.

“Given where we are in the employment crisis, this is absolutely critical,” Taulby Roach, Bi-State Development president and chief executive said during a virtual special meeting of the board of commissioners Aug. 20. “We are somewhere between 120 and 130 operators down right now.

“Not only is this for retaining new drivers with incentive packages but also rewarding the ones who are currently working double overs, working on their regular day off. Those are the folks who are really still moving St. Louis, and really need to be recognized.”

In a statement to The St. Louis American, Roach said transit operator shortages, “especially in front-line essential positions, are ...hampering our ability to provide all scheduled transit service.

“The market for workers is highly competitive, and we need to be flexible in order to quickly implement effective workforce shortage solutions. Current board policy limited our ability to respond in a more immediate fashion.”

The transit board approved a policy change that “will enable us to move more swiftly and respond to this dynamic employment environment,” without having to call a special session to address “every single incentive,” Roach said.

Roach also gave a shout-out to “our valuable current employees who have taken up the challenge and often worked overtime to keep St. Louis moving in the face of the pandemic. They are the real heroes here. These are quality jobs with full benefits that perform a critical function for our community. We need good people who want a strong career and believe in our region.“

The specifics of the incentives were not discussed in the special meeting or in the statement to The American.

ZipRecruiter estimates that as of Aug. 17, the average annual pay for a Metro Transit bus driver is $33,369 or about $16.04 an hour.

Earlier this month, Metro Transit announced plans to cut the frequency of some bus routes soon in response to the shortage of drivers and mechanics, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

This story was originally published by The St. Louis American, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio. Karen Robinson-Jacobs is The St. Louis American / Type Investigations business reporter and a Report for America corps member.

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