‘Precarious’ Transit Workforce Needs Data, Research to Help Fill the Void

Posted on November 7, 2017 by Alexander Bond - Also by this author

In recent years, it has become clear that talent needs to be developed rather than poached. Photo: Creative Commons
In recent years, it has become clear that talent needs to be developed rather than poached. Photo: Creative Commons

The state of the transit workforce is precarious, and we have little information to forecast future trends. Public transit properties were formed in a narrow window of time, generally the mid-1960s through early 1980s. Once these agencies opened their doors, the retirement clock started for all employees at the same moment. This led to a massive exodus 30 to 35 years later as original employees retired en masse. This retirement wave is largely behind us, but the industry has been struggling ever since to fill positions with qualified people at every level.

In previous decades, the strategy to replace workers was to hire already-qualified people away from other agencies. This shortcut worked for a while in an industry that was experiencing limited growth and low rates of career change. The downside was that in-house training, school-to-work programs, and apprenticeships shrank in prominence across the industry. As experienced workers retired, the pool of people to hire away has dried up. In recent years, it has become clear that talent needs to be developed rather than poached.

Retirement Trend
Nowhere is the retirement trend more pronounced than at the very top. The average tenure of CEOs leading top-20 bus properties is only 3.6 years. Half of those CEOs have been on the job for less than two years, while only two CEOs (San Diego Metropolitan Transit System’s Paul Jablonski and Minneapolis Metro’s Brian Lamb) have been at their post for more than a decade.

Instead of looking to hire experienced executives, boards are choosing to promote from within or even hire from outside the industry. Fifteen CEOs have never led a public transit property before; many rose through the ranks of their agency. Only two CEOs — WMATA’s Paul Wiedefeld and LA Metro’s Philip Washington — have previously led other top-20 properties.

It is much, much harder to tally retirement and job tenure farther down the organizational chart. This underscores a larger issue in transit workforce development: we have poor information on our own workforce and few platforms to research the problem. The National Transit Database is a good resource on ridership, service quality, and efficiency. However, NTD tells us next to nothing about the transit agencies that operate service. Other data sources like American Public Transportation Association (APTA), the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or the Transportation Learning Center are not comprehensive or focus on only a segment of workers.

Without more complete data, it is difficult to do national research on transit people readiness. A regular, systematic study of transit properties in the U.S. is crucial to understanding the workforce challenges we face — both today and in the future. Creating the data platform and conducting associated research should be a priority for the industry.

“Success in this business requires knowledge, integrity, and the ability to support measured risk.”

Fill The Gaps
If we are unable to fill these gaps in data and research, it will be impossible to craft national policies, programs, and grants to address systemic workforce problems. To date, efforts to remedy transit’s people-readiness issues are patchwork and highly local. Many local workforce efforts have been very successful; examples include the Regional Transit District of Denver’s Workforce Initiative Now for frontline workers and Orange County Transportation Authority’s succession planning program for senior managers.

National, state, and regional workforce programs are scarce. Congress has given the Federal Transit Administration a dwindling amount of money for workforce programs and grants. These funds have been targeted to support local programs, but the amount ($9 million in 2017) is far too small to make an impact nationwide. A handful of nonprofits like the Eno Center for Transportation, APTA, and the Transportation Learning Center have stepped in to fund national programs. However, demand for seats dramatically outstrips supply. The ability to travel and take time away also hampers participation.

Transit properties spend $44 billion dollars per year, supporting the direct employment of 425,000 people. This is a substantial number of people and resources that deserves to be monitored, studied and properly supported. Armed with this information, the industry can predict and avoid the next workforce crisis.

Alexander Bond is Director of Eno’s Center for Transportation Leadership.

View comments or post a comment on this story. (1 Comment)

More Transit Dispatches Blog Posts

April 17, 2018

Transit Facility Center Gives Help, Hope to Those 'With Nowhere to Go'

Transit facilities — train stations, bus depots and transportation centers — are often the shelter of choice for people experiencing homelessness, especially when weather conditions make it too dangerous to stay outside.

April 11, 2018

Mass Transit Must Integrate Data, Tech to Be Part of Mobility Landscape

Startups and legacy industries are harnessing big data to transform and revolutionize the ways their services are offered. Among the sectors sitting on the richest mines of data is public transportation, with municipalities and service providers boasting decades of data on urban transportation and mobility.

March 27, 2018

Public Transit Needs a Voice in Automated/Autonomous Vehicle Regulatory Talks

This technology will forever change transportation on a local level and national scale; the time is ripe for public transit agencies and OEMs to be more visible in shaping the outcome of these discussions, regulations, and laws.

March 22, 2018

Lyft and Uber Can Save Transit — if Transit Gets on Board

Bad news for transit keeps rolling in. Transit ridership declined in 34 of the 40 largest metropolitan areas over the past three years. While ridership routinely fluctuates in response to economic upturns and downturns and other trends, this decline seems more profound.

March 7, 2018

Railway cybersecurity must never be taken lightly

Many cybersecurity breaches are traced back to human error, from lack of compliance with security policies to configuration errors. Even the best-trained staff can be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of daily alerts that need to be tackled.

See More

Post a Comment

Post Comment

Comments (1)

More From The World's Largest Fleet Publisher

Automotive Fleet

The Car and truck fleet and leasing management magazine

Business Fleet

managing 10-50 company vehicles

Fleet Financials

Executive vehicle management

Government Fleet

managing public sector vehicles & equipment

TruckingInfo.com

THE COMMERCIAL TRUCK INDUSTRY’S MOST IN-DEPTH INFORMATION SOURCE

Work Truck Magazine

The number 1 resource for vocational truck fleets

Schoolbus Fleet

Serving school transportation professionals in the U.S. and Canada

LCT Magazine

Global Resource For Limousine and Bus Transportation

Please sign in or register to .    Close