CapMetro has enough bus drivers for now, but will need more as service expands
After struggling for months to keep buses showing up on time, Capital Metro said it finally has enough drivers to maintain existing service.
The agency recruited 156 bus drivers since January, the same month starting pay increased from $17.50/hour to $22/hour. The pay raise was included in a labor agreement between frontline employees and MV Transportation, the Dallas-based company hired by CapMetro to operate and maintain buses.
"We have what we need for [bus] operators," Andrew Skabowski, CapMetro's newest executive vice president, told the agency's board last week during a monthly update on operations. "We're reasonably caught up."
Meanwhile, a parts shortage that left broken buses gathering dust has also improved enough to get more vehicles back in service.
In May, the share of CapMetro buses out of service for lack of parts dropped from 7% to 5%, the equivalent of about eight buses returning to the streets.
"Doesn't seem like a lot, but it can be the difference between making service and not making service that day," Skabowski said.
But the agency's problems are far from over. More bus routes are planned. Retention is difficult. Mechanics are still short-staffed. Parts remain scarce.
By mid-2023, CapMetro plans to launch a pair of new high-frequency bus routes, part of the multibillion dollar Project Connect transit expansion.
The Expo Center MetroRapid line will run from the Travis County Expo Center to downtown Austin. The Pleasant Valley MetroRapid route will connect the Mueller development to the Goodnight Ranch neighborhood on Slaughter Lane.
Before those new MetroRapid lines start service, CapMetro has to hire 275 bus drivers, 25 mechanics and 15 supervisors to meet the growth. Right now, the agency has just over 800 bus drivers.
A decline in ridership is expected in the coming months with the University of Texas and other schools out out for summer. CapMetro officials plan to use that time to prepare for the fall.
"Over the next couple months, we have to hire, hire, hire. Train, train, train and buy, buy, buy," Skabowski said. "We gotta buy parts. We gotta hire operators, mechanics. And we gotta train them to do their jobs."