The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) will make temporary service modifications to its bus service beginning in December, to address a shortage of bus operators.
All 113 current bus routes will remain operational, with the majority, 96 routes, operating on a Saturday schedule. Eleven high ridership routes will continue operating on a weekday schedule, as will six routes that normally don’t run on Saturday.
Staff shortages are a challenge for many industries right now, and public transit has been hit particularly hard. MARTA budgets for 1,366 full-time bus operators and currently has 1,179 on staff, representing a 14% deficit. COVID-19 has posed the greatest threat to operator retention and recruitment, with operators leaving due to concerns over their health or being terminated due to noncompliance with MARTA’s COVID-19 Vaccination Policy. The Policy states that all employees must submit either a vaccination card or weekly test results. Absenteeism among remaining operators is high, resulting in cancelled routes or last-minute schedule changes that inconvenience customers and impact service reliability, according to the agency.
“This temporary adjustment to our bus service will reduce uncertainty about when your bus is coming or if it’s coming at all,” said MARTA Deputy GM, Operations, Collie Greenwood. “Like almost all transit agencies and other industries we are having to operate with a reduced workforce due to the effects of COVID, and this schedule change allows us to responsibly address this shortage and still provide service our customers can rely on.”
MARTA is actively recruiting bus operators through every available channel and holding monthly job fairs, processing many qualified candidates on the spot. The authority has streamlined its hiring process as well as making it more competitive with other transportation companies. Additionally, all new hires must be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The agency said that while it was a difficult decision, it expects to return to regular service soon and plans to deploy operators as they are hired and trained so that regular weekday bus service for all routes can resume with a full complement of drivers.