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Transportation

CapMetro bus frequency worsened by new COVID surge

Masked bus riders board a CapMetro bus in downtown Austin
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Some bus riders will have longer waits as CapMetro struggles with COVID-related staff shortages amid an existing lack of drivers.

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Four months after Capital Metro slashed bus frequency because of a driver shortage, the region's public transit agency says service is getting even worse because bus operators are being exposed to COVID-19.

"We're definitely in for a tough handful of weeks ahead of us," CapMetro Deputy CEO Dottie Watkins said.

On Monday morning, for example, about 10% of CapMetro buses scheduled to be on the street could not be operated because of staffing shortages, "which is really high," Watkins said. Drivers are calling out because they've either tested positive for COVID or are in quarantine after being exposed to the virus.

CapMetro says multiple routes will have reduced frequency and some buses might not show up when expected. The agency tries to spread the impact of the driver shortage across its network by pulling buses from higher frequency routes.

Transit riders have already been dealing with reduced service for months. Capital Metro scaled back frequency on at least 17 routes in September as part of its effort to improve reliability.

A shortage of bus drivers has hobbled public transportation systems across the United States. Capital Metro has tried to compete for workers by offering hiring bonuses and raising wages.

As of Jan. 1, starting pay for CapMetro bus operators increased from $17.50 an hour to $22. The pay bump was among several provisions included in a new labor contract between Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1091 and MV Transportation, a Dallas-based company hired by CapMetro to operate and maintain buses under a $1.4 billion multiyear contract.

"It's pretty difficult right now," local union president Brent Payne said, adding that more drivers are working overtime to cover missed shifts. "We're trying not to leave members of the public stranded."

Riders who want alerts about specific routes can sign up to receive email notifications from CapMetro.

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