“I wanted to cry”: Detroiters at their wit’s end with “cantankerous” DDOT bus service hampered by chronic driver shortage

“There has been a massive exodus of drivers, whether because of retirement, of people resigning because, quite frankly, even though we got a raise, we are still at the bottom of the totem pole for transport workers. common in this region, ”said Glenn Tolbert, vice-president of the ATU Local 26 bus drivers’ union.

The regional bus operator SMART indicates in a recent job listing that it pays $ 17.22 an hour to get started for coach operators after training. And someone looking to become a school bus driver in Troy can start at $ 19 an hour with a signing bonus of $ 1,000 or $ 2,000 until Sept. 30, operator First said. Student Inc. from a list.

This bonus is not surprising – the shortage of bus drivers is severe. Some Michigan school districts rushed to hire or suspend bus service because they couldn’t find enough drivers, even with bonuses and higher wages, media outlets including the Detroit Free Press reported. last few weeks.

Unlike most part-time school jobs, however, a public transit system can offer full-time work. But Tolbert said there were still security concerns to consider.

“The risks are just too great for the reward,” he said, between catching COVID-19 or getting involved in violent altercations on the bus. “So we are losing people, they are leaving for this reason.”

Detroit has improved sanitation facilities, safety equipment and the presence of transit police since a bus driver strike in 2020. But concerns remain, according to Tolbert. The membership of Local 26 has grown from 550 before COVID-19 to around 335 now, he said.

As for attracting new DDOT hires with bonuses, neither Tolbert nor Oglesby see this as doable.

“We have worked for a long time with the ATU to come to a conclusion on union negotiations,” Oglesby said. “If I hire an employee today with a big signing bonus, existing employees won’t take it well. So these are the things that cross our minds as we try to be creative. And we work really hard to be creative. , but be fair. “

Tolbert also said it wouldn’t make existing drivers happy to see new hires getting extra cash when they “are already trying to keep this system afloat.”

“We’re hiring seven, we’re losing eight, so we’re back in the same boat as we are,” he said. “… You have to take care of the people who are there for you.”

Fedewa argues that if paying new hires is politically difficult, they could give bonuses at all levels. Some also pleaded for the reinstatement of the risk premium for bus drivers. Core employees in Detroit were receiving up to $ 800 additional risk premium per month from April to June 2020. The regional SMART system still distributes a risk premium: $ 7.50 per hour for drivers.

But DDOT is not independently configured like SMART is, Oglesby said. The city of Detroit has given bus drivers, police and firefighters a risk premium until funds run out, he said, adding he didn’t have the option to do it alone.

About Kevin Strickland

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