PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — SEPTA's bus driver shortage is getting worse.
For months, there have been daily delays on SEPTA bus routes because of a lack of operators. In September, SEPTA was 83 drivers short of a full complement of 2,722.
"We've lost a bit of ground since then. We're about 145 operators below our budget at this point," SEPTA Assistant General Manager for Operations Scott Sauer said.
SEPTA has not been able to hire and train drivers to keep up with the rate of attrition, Sauer said, noting that there was the usual spike in retirements before the Transport Workers Union Local 234 contract expired in October. Normally, Sauer said, about 22 drivers retire each month.
The transit agency has been filling open driver shifts by paying overtime.
"It's certainly not a sustainable solution," Sauer said. "Really, the solution for us is to get folks hired."
One complication is that applicants need to have commercial driver license permits.
"It's not an easy test. Commercial drivers license permitting is not just a standard drivers test," Sauer explained. "There's a lot involved in that."
SEPTA has hired the nonprofit Collegiate Consortium for Workforce & Economic Development to help get candidates through the process.
"They’re going to provide some free training for our applicants to assist them in passing the commercial drivers license test," Sauer said. "This actually is starting up next week."
Bus drivers have expressed concerns over COVID-19 and safety on the system. Sauer says, compared to before the pandemic, SEPTA has seen about half as many applicants for bus driver positions.
SEPTA is aiming to hire 28 drivers every three weeks, but Sauer said so far only about 20 drivers have been hired every three weeks.