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MCT driver shortage crisis leads to proposed rider service reductions

Proposed extensions of route frequencies needed to prevent daily service interruptions

By MELISSA CROCKETT MESKE
macmeske@ibjonline.com

Madison County Transit’s Joe Domer and Chloe Schmidt talk with commuters at the Edwardsville bus terminal on Oct. 18 about the proposed schedule changes for 2023 resulting from the agency’s driver shortage crisis as well as other concerns from transit customers. (Photo by Melissa Crockett Meske/Illinois Business Journal)

Madison County Transit is experiencing a workforce crisis, as are public transit agencies across the country. 

In fact, access to a willing workforce is a critical issue for employers across all industries and around the country. The supply chain has been fractured, and the logistics of moving things and people remains a challenge as we emerge into this post-pandemic era. 

And while travels down recovery’s path continue, MCT finds itself now in a difficult position: reduce service or face daily service interruptions.

After 18 months of mandated overtime for its existing workforce, MCT has proposed weekday frequency reductions for three of its routes and the elimination of one low-performing route. The proposed changes are being discussed with the public now with the intent of taking effect in January 2023.

“Reducing or eliminating service is a last resort,” said MCT Managing Director SJ Morrison. “But we can’t continue to force our drivers to work this much overtime, we’re burning out our workforce.” 

MCT’s mission is to provide safe, affordable, and reliable public transportation service, but with the current driver shortage, reliability is compromised. Currently, the agency is nearly 30 drivers down for its bus service line.

MCT recognizes the impact these changes could have on passengers who rely on this service to reach work and school, run vital errands, access medical appointments, and visit family and friends. The agency also recognizes the potential impact on employers, businesses, and other establishments along these affected routes. 

Four in-person and one virtual open house session were hosted by MCT from Oct. 18 to 20, 2022, to share proposed changes with the public, gather feedback, answer questions and address concerns. Madison County Transit continues to welcome any added comments, questions, and other feedback prior to any board action on the proposals. 

Director of Marketing, IT and Planning Amanda Viliocco-Smith shared, “Those that have attended the public meetings have been very understanding as to why reductions are being proposed on the 4, 7, and 18. Passengers are concerned about limiting their options and want to ensure service is not eliminated.”

In fact, during the Oct. 18 open house session held at the Edwardsville bus terminal, one monthly pass commuter shared his thoughts with MCT’s Chloe Schmidt, saying, “If you’re short drivers, it’s not your fault.”

If implemented, the proposed changes would reduce weekday frequency from every 30 minutes to every 60 minutes on #4 Madison-Edwardsville, #7 Alton-Edwardsville, and #18 Collinsville Regional bus routes.

In addition, the #23 Gateway Commerce Center Shuttle would be eliminated because of its low ridership and the duplication of service offered on the #20 Granite City-Pontoon Beach Shuttle. 

Other notes on the proposed service changes include: 

#4 Madison-Edwardsville: 

  • Decrease weekday frequency between Granite City and Edwardsville from 30 minutes to 60 minutes.
  • Increase the weekday service span until 10:46 p.m. to accommodate SIUE and SWIC evening classes.

#6 Roxana – Pontoon Beach:

  • Extend all trips to Wood River Schnucks on IL-143.

#7 Alton-Edwardsville: 

  • Decrease frequency between Alton and Edwardsville Station from 30 minutes to 60 minutes. 
  • Discontinue service to Alton Regional Multimodal Transportation Center while continuing service to Alton Square Mall.

#9 Washington Shuttle:

  • Reinstate service to Skyline Towers senior living facility in Alton.

#13 Troy – Glen Carbon:

  • Serve Cambridge House and Liberty Village on Illinois 162 on every trip.

#18 Collinsville Regional: 

  • Decrease weekday frequency between Collinsville and Emerson Park MetroLink from 30 minutes to 60 minutes.

#23 Gateway Commerce Center Shuttle: 

  • Discontinue route due to low ridership. Service is still available on the #20 Granite City – Pontoon.

In terms of any added safety and security measures to consider with longer wait times in between pickups and transfers, longer transfer times, and intermittent in-route delays, Viliocco-Smith said, “A presence at all MCT facilities will still be maintained at their current levels. Proposed changes on the 4, 7, and 18 would continue to allow riders opportunities to make transfers at MCT stations where there are climate-controlled waiting areas. All other routes would continue to operate on their published schedule, which brings in passengers, drivers, and road supervisors into the facilities every 30 minutes.”

Regarding how the longer frequencies (30 minutes to become 60 minutes) might impact commuters linking up with other public transit such as MetroLink, Bi-State/Metro, and Tri-County Rural Transit, Viliocco-Smith noted, “Passengers transferring to MCT from Metro services at the MCT Collinsville Station and/or the Emerson Park MetroLink Station may experience delays due to the proposed reduction. Tri-Country Rural Transit is not an agency we interface with on a consistent basis or at any specific locations within Madison County. If the proposal is approved by the MCT Board of Trustees, we will work with other local transit operators to ensure understanding of these changes.”

“It’s our hope that over the course of the next few months, enough drivers will be hired in order to reduce or even cancel these proposed service changes,” added Morrison. “We’re urging the public to spread the word about this critical need for drivers in order to help keep this service consistent and reliable for the thousands of Madison County residents who need it the most.”

To learn more about the proposed January 2023 service changes, visit www.mct.org, email info@mct.org, or call 618-797-INFO (4636). 

The Hiring Bus set up shop in the parking lot of AMC Edwardsville 12 Theatre in Edwardsville on Oct. 20, one of many stops along a critical recruiting tour hosted by ACT/MCT with hopes of filling a 30-plus transit driver gap currently being experienced. (Photo by Melissa Crockett Meske/Illinois Business Journal)

As Morrison noted, MCT is also actively trying to fill its critical workforce shortage gap. One way the agency is doing this is by deploying its mobile recruitment center known as “The Hiring Bus” to highly visible spots throughout Madison County. 

In October, The Hiring Bus could be boarded by prospective employees at stops in Collinsville, East Alton, Edwardsville, Jerseyville, Madison and Troy.

At its stops, job seekers can step onboard The Hiring Bus, ask questions, fill out applications, talk with recruiters and hiring personnel, and be interviewed the same day. The recruitment campaign continues, as the Agency for Community Transit (ACT) that employs MCT’s bus drivers is always seeking to hire friendly, energetic professionals to drive MCT’s green and white buses. 

No experience is needed as all training is provided. ACT offers drivers competitive wages with an increase upon completion of a probationary period. Full-time work is available upon hire, as well as health and retirement benefits. 

For a list of all open positions and their descriptions, or to apply online, visit www.ACTinfo.org/jobs. ACT is a drug-free workplace and an equal opportunity employer.

Resumes can also be sent to ACT, Attn: Human Resources, 1 Transit Way, Pontoon Beach, IL 62040.

In addition to drivers, the agency also has the following openings to fill: Fleet technician (mechanic), bus fuelers and cleaners, account representative, fleet database specialist, network administrator, and accounting-purchasing associate. 

Positions in high demand, including drivers, fuelers, cleaners, and mechanics qualify for a $1,000 sign-on bonus. 

Madison County Transit (MCT) provides multi-modal transportation services for Madison County, Illinois. MCT operates a fixed-route bus service, connecting to MetroLink; express weekday commuter service directly to and from downtown St. Louis, and seasonal express service to the Muny. For elderly and disabled residents who are unable to use the fixed-route buses, MCT provides complementary door-to-door service.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This story also appears in the November 2022 print edition of the Illinois Business Journal.)

 

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