RICHMOND, Va. — Oliver Ross relies on the Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC) to reach everywhere in Metro Richmond and back.
“I work out in Short Pump, but I live here in Scott’s Addition so I actually take 2 buses to get to work,” Ross explained. “I don’t have a car so I’m on public transit fairly often.”
But, come December, passengers may be waiting longer for their buses to arrive.
“It’s no secret that GRTC, like so many industries, are struggling with labor shortages. For us, it’s two-fold,” said Carrie Rose Pace, GRTC Director of Communications.
Citing a shortage in drivers and mechanics, the GRTC Board of Directors on Tuesday unanimously approved plans to reduce how frequently their buses arrive at the Pulse stops and 14 other routes.
“We really want to give riders confidence when they look at the mobile app or bus schedule when it says they’re coming at this time that we will be there,” Rose Pace explained.
For example, the Pulse operates at 10 minute frequency during the day, 15 minutes after 7 p.m. and 30 minutes after 11:30 p.m. The approved plans would schedule buses to arrive at 15 minutes during the day and 30 minutes late at night.
Buses that serve Routes 5, 20, 76, 77, 78, 88, 4A, and 4B would also see delayed arrival times. GRTC will start some of Routes 12, 13, 14, 1A, 2A, and 3C an hour later and end an hour earlier. Some routes will see a reduction in service and delay in bus frequency.
Rose Pace said the impacts to bus routes could change by December and the company is hopefully they won’t be permanent. She expected to release more specific information about the routes next month.
The changes come as GRTC can only plan for 215 drivers on the road each day due to the shortages or illnesses. They aimed to employ around 300 bus operators.
The transit company will also mandate their employs to receive the COVID-19 vaccine or obtain a religious exemption towards the end of November.
Approximately 70 percent of transit employees, who volunteered the information, are currently vaccinated, said Rose Pace.
The company is also in talks with ride-sharing companies like Uber to offer free trips for late nights or early mornings when the buses don’t operate.
“Each stop would be geofenced so you would have to be at a stop to the use the service,” GRTC CEO Julie Timm told the Board. “They would use a GRTC voucher and Uber would take them to another stop within the GRTC system.”
To attract employees, GRTC is offering new drivers a $5,000 incentive and an $8,500 bonus for mechanics. Rose Pace also applauded the company’s largest class of 11 new drivers since the pandemic started last year.
The Board acknowledged the pending changes are less severe than they expected and targeted routes that reported low passenger numbers.
Last month, the GRTC suspended three express routes in Henrico due to low ridership.
“If you fail to plan you plan to fail,” said GRTC Director George Braxton. “I think that’s showing we are doing everything we can to get out in front of this.”
Ross was sympathetic and acknowledged the job of a bus driver or mechanic is difficult.
“As someone who relies on it, I’m grateful and appreciative that it even exists, but it is kind of annoying,” Ross stated. “But they’re doing the best they can.”