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Citing a driver shortage, Madison County Transit will reduce routes in December

Cutting routes and reducing service was the last option. “We've just reached the point where we just have no choice,” said SJ Morrison, the Managing Director of Madison County Transit.
Madison County Transit
Cutting routes and reducing service was the last option, Madison County Transit officials said.

Madison County Transit will temporarily reduce frequency on three bus lines, change another and discontinue two routes starting on Dec. 3 because of an ongoing driver shortage.

The Metro East transit agency is down between 15 and 20 drivers, said Managing Director SJ Morrison. In order to compensate over the past couple of years, Morrison said MCT has mandated overtime for its drivers.

“It's becoming very difficult for the drivers,” Morrison said. “We're afraid that it's going to hurt morale. It could lead to fatigue, and so it's just not a good situation for anybody.”

The problem of hiring and retaining drivers is being felt by many employers regardless of industry. But in transit, it’s especially obvious as the solution tends to be noticeable by its riders.

Metro Call-A-Ride, operated by Bi-State Development, had to cut routes earlier this year because it has struggled to keep employees — which has left riders waiting longer and seeing more cancellations.

After seeking public comment at eight meetings and tabulating which routes lacked ridership, the solution approved by MCT’s board of trustees will be reducing or changing service on the following:

  • #7 — Connecting Alton and Edwardsville, the route will now run only every hour, instead of every 30 minutes. It will also not run to the Alton Square Mall on weekdays or Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s campus. 
  • #8 — Running north to south in Alton, the line will now use the new parking lot at OSF St. Anthony’s Hospital and pickup service from Twin Rivers Group Homes in Godfrey to Challenge Unlimited in Alton, previously served by #10. 
  • #10 — Running north to south from Godfrey to Alton, the route will now run every hour, instead of every 30 minutes. 
  • #18 — Connecting Collinsville to East St. Louis, the line will run every 30 minutes during the morning commuting hours but will drop to every hour the remainder of the day. 
  • #24X — Serving the Gateway Commerce Center in Pontoon Beach and Edwardsville from Alton, the route will be discontinued. 
  • #25X — Also serving the Gateway Commerce Center in Pontoon Beach and Edwardsville but from Collinsville, this route will be discontinued.

Despite the two routes being cut, there is still service to the Gateway Commerce Center from Granite City and East St. Louis on separate lines, Morrison said. A third route also shuttles in and around the warehouse district.

Morrison said he noticed the transit industry struggling to hire prior to the pandemic. However, that disruption only made it worse.

“We saw a lot of retirements,” he said. “We saw a lot of folks that just said, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’”

MCT tried to get ahead of the problem by aggressively advertising its positions, posting signing bonuses and even taking a bus across the area to interview job candidates on the spot. But, Morrison said, MCT is still struggling to recruit.

“We’re hoping that these reductions are just temporary, and that we’re able to recruit and retain a normal amount of drivers, so that we are able to reinstate the service as soon as we can,” he said.

Cutting routes and reducing service was the last option, Morrison said. Ridership across Madison County’s bus system has rebounded to about 85% of the levels prior to the pandemic. During some months, MCT saw 90% ridership. He said the timing of the changes are unfortunate.

“We've just reached the point where we just have no choice,” Morrison said.

Will Bauer is the Metro East reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.