ST. LOUIS — If you ride a Metro Transit bus, chances are, you've already felt the pinch of the ongoing labor shortage.
"With the major routes, some of the buses haven't been showing up, but for the most part, it's been okay," said Terrance Willingham. Willingham lives in South City and commutes to a West County hospital as a surgical tech. Getting to work can be a challenge.
Running errands with his wife and two kids is even more so.
Willingham was headed to Walmart with his wife to pick up groceries from the Civic Center Transit station downtown on a cold and windy day. It's hard to stand outside for long periods of time not knowing if his bus will be on time. He says his time on the bus usually equates to about two hours out of his day.
The delays are partly because of an ongoing labor shortage. Nearly 130 transit drivers, 30 mechanics, and 10 electricians are needed at Metro Transit. The pandemic has only exacerbated a bus driver shortage across the country. In St. Louis, the transit company has been able to keep all 68 routes going, but instead of a 15-minute wait, the bus can be 20 minutes or longer.
"We're looking for understanding from the public and from our customers right now," said Taulby Roach, President and CEO of Bi-State Development. "Unfortunately, when we're down like this, sometimes we may miss a trip or two."
Now Metro is upping salaries, adding training to help workers upskill and receive more pay, and giving signing bonuses to attract and keep more workers. A bus operator with a commercial driver's license could earn up to $19.85 an hour, while a driver without a CDL could earn $17.21 an hour but also get CDL training. One of the highest-paid jobs is a transit electrician at up to 33.17 an hour.
Bi-State also offers medical, dental, and vision coverage, guaranteed retirement in the form of a pension or a company-matched 401k plan.
Like many transit agencies and other industries, companies are working hard to be competitive to attract and keep workers.
"I'm showing up as much as best I can and asking people to come and look at workatmetrostl.com," said Roach. "We have a $2,000 signing bonus right now for new employees. This is a great job with good pay and with benefits. This is a career. It's not just a temporary job."
In the meantime, riders will have to keep planning and having patience.
The ripple effects from the labor shortage can sometimes keep Willingham from getting to the hospital on time.
"On the weekend, there's a 50-50 chance," said Willingham. "You might be at a bus stop for a couple of hours."
Metro Transit riders can text the Transit Information Team at 314-207-9786 to check the status of their bus or for any other transit service questions or information. Riders can also use the Transit app, which will show them if there are any canceled bus trips on their commute.
Riders can also use Via Metro STL for on-demand transit services in North and South St. Louis County. Riders are not restricted to having trips connected to Metro Transit. You can use the service to get from your home to the grocery store or anywhere else in the service areas.