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Transportation

Capital Metro Slashes Bus Frequency Amid Driver Shortage

People board Capital Metro's Route 300 bus
Julia Reihs
/
KUT
Route 300 is one of 17 routes Cap Metro is reducing service on to cope with a shortage of drivers.

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Capital Metro will reduce frequency on 17 bus routes and suspend a late-night bus service for UT students as the transit agency struggles to hire enough drivers and mechanics.

Starting Sept. 19, buses that normally come every 10 to 12 minutes may run every 15 minutes. Other routes will have service cut from every 15 minutes to twice an hour. Some routes will be affected only on weekends, and MetroRapid service will be cut only at night.

The routes affected will be 1, 2, 4, 7, 10, 17, 18, 20, 217, 300, 311, 325, 333, 335 and 337. MetroRapid routes 801 and 803 will have service reduced to every 20 minutes on weekdays from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Late-night service on MetroRapid routes, which runs Thursday through Saturday, will end at midnight instead of 3 a.m.

E-Bus service will not operate at all during the fall semester. The E stands for "Entertainment" as the bus is intended to accommodate students traveling from UT Austin, West Campus and the Riverside areas to Sixth and Colorado streets in Austin's entertainment district. Night Owl routes will continue to operate.

Capital Metro — which last week tweeted an apology both for lackluster service and for not informing riders of the problem sooner — says it would rather have less frequent routes than inconsistent service that leaves riders waiting at the bus stop.

"Right now, quite honestly, you never know when the bus is going to come," CapMetro Chief Operating Officer Dottie Watkins told the agency's board this week. "You can check the schedule, but if 10% of the buses on the schedule just aren't running today, your odds of being able to rely on the schedule is pretty low."

"That's about where we're sitting," she said. "Some days [are] worse."

The problem is twofold. The transit agency is short about 10 vehicle technicians and 100 bus operators, although 31 drivers are currently in training. On top of that, 20 to 25 people are absent each day due to COVID-19 illnesses and quarantines.

"It's especially challenging, because ridership is coming back fairly quickly [over] the last few weeks," CapMetro CEO Randy Clarke said. The agency suffered a severe decline in ridership at the start of the pandemic, but has been gradually recovering.

First-year bus drivers start at $17.50 an hour. New recruits are being offered $1,500 hiring bonuses. Applicants with a commercial drivers license can bet a bonus of $3,500.

But drivers must sometimes deal with abusive and threatening riders. Such job hazards were part of the justification offered this week for establishing a transit police force, which the board voted Monday to advance.

"I think we have an imperative as a board to do everything we can as quickly as we can to protect our front-line personnel," CapMetro Board Chair Wade Cooper said. "We've known for some time that we have put them in harm's way in many respects."

Got a tip? Email Nathan Bernier at nbernier@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.

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