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Metro Transit offers $5,000 signing bonus to bring in new operators, workers

Metro buses and trains are being disinfected regularly during the coronavirus pandemic, according to an official. (picture from 2019)
Derik Holtmann | Belleville News-Democrat
Metro Transit is offering $5,000 signing bonuses to attract new bus and train operators, electricians and mechanics. In recent years, the agency has reduced routes because it didn’t have enough drivers. Officials say the incentives will help riders receive better service.

Metro Transit is offering $5,000 signing bonuses to attract new bus and train operators, electricians and mechanics.

The regional transit agency is implementing the bonuses because of a nationwide shortage of transit operators and other essential transit workers, transit officials said. The shortage is causing route changes, trip denials, cancellations and long wait periods.

The agency needs to offer bonuses because it is in an employment crisis, Bi-State Development President and CEO Taulby Roach said.

“We've been meeting with a lot of our affected riders about scheduling and missed trips, and in particular, as a reaction to listening to what the public is wanting, my board is authorized that we leave no stone unturned, that we try everything that we possibly can,” he said.

Metro will pay new workers the incentives in three payments over the course of a year. Metro Transit offered a $2,000 bonus two years ago to entice new workers, and the newest one aims to show riders it is committed to better service. The agency needs over 340 workers to be fully staffed.

“We owe our everyday riders and our everyday citizens to be sure that we are being responsive to their needs,” Roach said.

The agency is in negotiations with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 788 to offer new pay and employee benefits packages. Roach said the agency wants to recognize drivers who are working double shifts and who kept the region moving during the coronavirus pandemic.

Signing bonuses will bring in new workers to Metro Transit, but union officials are working to increase the starting wage for workers and secure raises for current operators, said Reginald Howard, president of ATU Local 788.

“You have to make it attractive to get people in the door,” he said. “You don't make it look good for them with a signing bonus, but the money that you are giving them when they walk in the door is not competitive.”

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.