DART bus driver shortage leaves people waiting in the heat

DART bus driver shortage leaves people waiting in the heat

Dallas Area Rapid Transit officials did not anticipate the shortage when they rolled out a new, redesigned bus system in January.
June 27, 2022

By Andrew Little, Dallas Morning News

Dallas doesn’t have enough bus drivers and now commuters are feeling the effect: longer waits in the heat.

DART did not anticipate the shortage when it rolled out a new, redesigned bus system in January. Last week, the agency cut back service for one third of the new system because of it.

Buses on some routes that used to come every 20 minutes are now coming every 30. Others that used to come every 15 are coming every 20. No routes have been affected.

The reduction comes at a time when Dallas is seeing above average temperatures for this time of year. Triple-digit heat arrived to the city weeks before it usually does and on more days than June normally sees.

Arkenya Foggy, who often uses routes 13 or 30 to get downtown, said she was still getting used to the January route updates when the schedule changed.

“Everybody’s confused about where they’re going and now they’re not coming on time,” said Foggy. “I don’t like it.”

Denise Williams, who commutes on routes 9 and 13 to get to her home healthcare job, said she gets concerned about COVID–19 whenever the buses come less often because more people pack in.

She hasn’t noticed any changes, however, because service always seems slow.

“It can’t be less often if my bus barely even shows up!” Williams said. “They got us right here in the sun.”

The transit agency notified riders ahead of the change and Olga Bermudez Ramirez got the message.

Bermudez, who works in hospitality at the Omni Hotel and commutes to work every day on Route 16, said, “I just get up earlier. I can never be late.”

Others also say they are aware of the changes but haven’t been affected much, although they’re hoping for improvements.

Kenneth Smith is a forklift driver and brought his son downtown by way of route 16 for his day off. Route 16 is currently coming every 30 minutes rather than every 20 because of the change.

“Everything’s OK,” said Smith. “DART’s just gotta get it together and hire some more drivers!”

Unanticipated shortage

The system redesign DART rolled out in January, its biggest revamp since 1983, was meant to decrease wait times and increase access with the help of recommendations from riders.

But more and more bus drivers left their jobs throughout the Spring, putting a strain on scheduling.

“We didn’t anticipate when we designed the network and went back to full service levels that we would see the impact that we ended up seeing,” said Robert Smith, DART’s vice president of service planning and scheduling in a briefing to the Dallas City Council last week. “We’ve had missed trips throughout the bus system.”

DART needs 163 more drivers to restore the schedules and is “hiring aggressively” to do so, said agency spokesperson Gordon Shattles.

Signing bonuses, wage increases and amped up marketing are all ingredients that DART is counting on to compete in what continues to be a hot labor market.

Drivers used to make $17.60 per hour, a few dollars below Amazon and UPS drivers who make upwards of $20 per hour in Texas. DART bumped that number up to $21.13 per hour in February.

Two months later, the agency added signing bonuses for new drivers - $2,000 for anyone who starts the job with a commercial drivers license and $1,000 for those with a learner’s permit.

The agency is also hosting more marketing events around the city to spread the word about the perks.

DART hopes to restore frequency by January of next year if enough new drivers can be hired by then, said Shattles.

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