NC: City: No progress on bus expansion

April 2, 2024
The city of High Point says a persistent bus driver shortage continues to thwart plans for updated transit routes and longer hours of operation.

Mar. 29—HIGH POINT — The city of High Point says a persistent bus driver shortage continues to thwart plans for updated transit routes and longer hours of operation.

Assistant Transportation Director George Eckart told an audience at a City Council town hall Tuesday that it's difficult to maintain existing bus service levels.

"Right now, we are really strapped for personnel," he said. "We don't have the drivers, the operators to extend service, and we're having a real serious problem now with people calling in sick."

Eckart said the transit division has a core of seven or eight dependable longtime drivers.

"We've got eight or 12 we hired in the last 18 months, and we're having a devil of a time getting those folks to come to work on a regular basis," he said.

A city-hired consultant in 2015 recommended adjusting bus routes for the first time in 25 years by expanding transit service to reach more of the city's largest employers and population centers and running buses later into the evenings.

A past council in 2016 gave final approval to the overhaul, which was supposed to include elimination of routes with low ridership.

Eckart said the city continues to face competition for drivers from other transit agencies.

In addition, city bus drivers not only must have commercial driver's licenses, they must have at least two years of experience before they're hired.

He said the city has raised starting salaries for drivers from $15 to $18 an hour.

"We're working really hard on getting fully staffed. We're being called to task by our council and by the mayor to sharpen our pencils," Eckart said.

The city is also exploring "microtransit" service, which would use smaller vehicles like vans that don't have fixed routes.

"Microtransit is not cheap, but it's something we ought to consider," Eckart said. "Our rooftops are getting further and further away from the city core, so we need to connect people with their jobs and their residences."

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