Fixing Metro Transit’s Staff Shortage

Metro Transit is finally getting honest about their staffing problems, and cutting service to many routes.

This is in spite of a massive hiring effort on their part and at least two increases in starting wages I’ve noticed in the past year and a half.

They’re hiring!

When I was unemployed, I was looking very hard at that $19.45/hr rate they give you while you’re in training. I did apply, and even was accepted to a screening interview. Ultimately, I decided not to take the position. Being a bus driver is still too much to ask for that wage.

Here are some things that would have tipped the scales in favor of me accepting a position as a bus driver:

  1. Give people reasonable schedules. The new hire route is 30 hours a week, a split shift, working the morning and evening commutes to and from the suburbs. That puts you on extended office hours, but missing pay in the middle of the day. I would’ve taken 40, but I’d also have considered 20 or even 15 if the benefits were there.
  2. Have adequate shelters for the people who ride transit as a substitute for having shelter. Whether these get funded by the met council or the cities or the state or (god forbid) the feds, people need places to stay, and a bus or a train is not a place to stay.
  3. Put fares on the honor system, 100%. No enforcement whatsoever by the driver. Or, make it free.
  4. Bus-only lanes on all high traffic routes. Route 5, I’m looking at you. The suburban commuter route I used to ride did well on the shoulder of the freeway, but it must be awful trying to deal with roadside trash and construction and merging cars. Mnpass lanes everywhere the speed limit is over 45, please. 
  5. Roll out those neat panels that protect drivers on every bus. I don’t want to have to have my guard up at all times while trying to stay on schedule and drive safely.

know your worth then add tax


If all those things were in place or getting in place within the next year, I’d probably have accepted the position if they offered $25/hr. Driving a bus is a huge responsibility, taking literally dozens of lives into your hands every minute you’re on the road, and we need to acknowledge the skill and labor of the position with pay. 

Under current conditions, driving a metro transit bus is probably worth more like $50/hr. Pay people what they’re worth, and you won’t have a “worker shortage”.

Pine Salica

About Pine Salica

Pine lives in Minneapolis and works in Saint Paul. Pine hasn't owned a car for over a dozen years, and can count on one hand the number of times they've operated one in the last 12 months. Housing is a human right, car storage is not. Member of the Climate Committee.

14 thoughts on “Fixing Metro Transit’s Staff Shortage

  1. Nick

    If we didn’t have a legislature that consistently undervalues the service that transit provides (that includes R and DFL, looking at you 2013-2015 DFL majority that didn’t fix our transit funding problem), maybe we could pay MT drivers what they’re worth.

    1. Frank Phelan

      Well, part of the problem is that there are legislators that are in favor of buses when it’s an LRT debate. But when it’s a bus debate, all of a sudden they’re not in favor of any buses.

  2. Antonio BackmanAntonio Backman

    I agree with almost every point you made. The only thing I would say differently is that I think the legislature should focus on homes and housing for folks and not shelters (and especially not large shelters). I have known far too many people who feel safer sleeping outside than at a shelter. Or at the very least people having their own rooms in a shelter would help people feel safe.

    1. Pine SalicaNicole Salica Post author

      That’s fair. I didn’t intend to be favoring mass shelters over any particular solution, but I can definitely see that point!
      Housing is a human right.

  3. Bill Dooley

    I agree that bus drivers should not be fare enforcers. Either have all fare payment outside the bus like BRT or light rail, or make the rides free and obtain all operating costs from state and federal funding or county sales tax revenue.

    1. Jennifer D

      They are trained to state the fair and report any nonpayment, but not to enforce payment. Avoid discord escalation.

  4. Frank Phalen

    If you think homeless folks using transit as a shelter is a problem, wait until rides are free.

    And just how much would it cost to have pay before boarding at every single transit stop on the system? Maybe it’s not a big deal and it’s just way above my pay grade, so if it’s not hard or expensive to do please let me know.

    As far a bus driver safety, how often are cops riding the most dangerous routes? Would it deter crime to have more plain clothes cops on board at random times? A uniformed cop is only a deterent while on board. Undercover officers deter crime even when they aren’t there, provided they are riding with some frequency.

    1. Janne

      A couple years ago, when I was in Norway, I paid by smartphone on an app. The drivers didn’t check it. There was a back-up system to pay onboard for people who didn’t have smart phones.

      30 years ago when I was in Norway, most fare payment was these little cards you’d stamp on the vehicle, again not checked by drivers.

      All fare enforcement was done by people who would board randomly (not cops). Either of those systems would be affordable to implement.

    2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      What if we think the homeless using transit for shelter isn’t a problem?

      And what if we only collected fares where we had off-board payment systems?

      Not sure how undercover cops deter crime, but can see how they can punish people if they’re they’re. Meanwhile, cops in uniform are an implicit threat to those whom we use cops to threaten.

  5. Carschmn

    I agree with you on most points. I don’t think that it is Metro _Transit_’s job to build housing for homeless people. I’m aware that their shelters do use defensive architecture to keep out homeless people but transit shelters aren’t for living in. I don’t think public transit and affordable housing should come out of the same funding pool.

    Also I think they should work harder to keep out free riders but make transit assistance more accessible. The fact that people can get a ride for free is one of the main attacks conservatives have against public transit. Increasing fare enforcement would make them happy and providing reduced or free bus passes would help low income people ride.

    It’s nice that they are actually offering paid training now. The deal used to be you had to have a bus license to apply.

  6. raymond dean

    The poor drivers are wasting a lot of time with riders who think drivers should gave then directions wasting everyone time when they get on or wait on till they getting off .

    Another pet peeves is not having announcement ” please exit by the back door” when ever the bell cord is pulled like NYC MTA .
    Drivers have tight schedules any delays cut into their breaks.

    Eliminate Paper transfers so more people use GOTO cards .So Transit Agencies are going cash less.

    Create bus terminal so the drivers have toilet facilties.There is several garages downtown but their location is off the routing for many routes.Eg Nicollet buses#18 some 17 should terminate at Gateway .

    The demand for part time drivers are attributed to the excessive commuter routes that are mostly deadheading ,only Seattle have that more commuter routes than METRO Transit .It is time to streamline some of then to reduce the demand for part- timers .

    35W: the #535 is available why add trips on the 35W buses when many people can transfer .#146/156 are good example

    Highland #134 riders have access to many routes and the A line,BL,GL
    ALL the UM commuter routes the GREEN LINE is running 3-cars there isn’t enough people to fill them

    NorthStar should some of the existing routes nearby feed into the nearest stations instead of continuing to downtown.

    Police need to focus on the problem routes and LRT .Too often I see them on slow route at late night .

  7. Monte Castleman

    The first step to fixing a problem isn’t to automatically try throwing taxpayer money at it. (Presumably that’s where it would come from, rather fare increases). According to the MinnPost article there were 2600 applicants last year and only 300 were hired. So maybe our standards are to high. Seems a lot of them passed the driving and navigation part but not the “customer service”. So we might ask why they failed. Are they cursing out people or just not saying “Thank You” enthusiastically enough? Would bus riders really prefer to not have a bus to take rather than a bus to take where the bus driver doesn’t say “Thank You” enthusiastically enough but doesn’t crash tor get lost?

  8. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

    I saw several wrong assumptions in these comments.

    1. Metro Transit long-standing policy is for drivers not to be fare enforcers.
    2. Homeless riders are a difficult issue, so long as they pay their fare. Metro Transit tries to accommodate them until they misbehave. Transit police look for uncivil behavior, public inebriation, etc.
    3. Anyone who thinks is unlimited money to raise driver pay and add more police (there are already more than ever before) apparently isn’t aware of how tight transit funding is, thanks to the anti-transit GOP legislature.
    4. The transit police are very aware of where the the security problems are and deploy their resources appropriately, but no one can afford a cop on every bus.

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