MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - Metro Transit is launching an apprenticeship program to address the recent shortage of bus drivers.
Officials started cutting routes in the spring. Of the 6500 routes they run, they have suspended about 60.
“Right now what you have going on is the shortage of drivers, which has led to the reduction of service, which has built more stress on an already overworked workforce and then the construction on top of all of that,” said Ryan Timlin, president of Amalgamated Transit Union 1005.
“Starting in May, we started to strategically think about, 'OK if we can’t catch up as fast as we need to what are those drastic steps we might have to take in the interim until we do catch up,'” said Brian Funk of Metro Transit.
A shortage of roughly 90 drivers meant cutting routes now, but launching a new apprenticeship program for the future. The goal of the program is to recruit new drivers and retain the veterans.
“New bus drivers need to know that the job will be challenging, but if you take that on as a challenge to yourself, it can be very rewarding when you become very skillful at not only operating the bus, but handling the tricky situations and people that you handle on a daily basis,” said Alec Johnson, Metro Transit driver and apprenticeship coordinator.
The program will give new drivers the opportunity to learn from those who have been doing it for years and give them a friend when they first start out as well as a foundation in the industry.
“It really gives value to the hundreds of years of collective experience that bus drivers have accumulated over the years of doing this job day in and day out successfully, maintaining a smile on their face, and being happy and proud of what they do,” said Johnson. “Because it’s not an easy task at all.”
Metro Transit is kicking off the program this month by enrolling 40 new bus operators. Their goal is to get to 200. If Metro Transit reaches that goal, it could become the state’s largest apprenticeship program.