A critical staff shortage at Manatee County Area Transit has on average two operators working double shifts every day to keep the routes in service.
“Over the last several years, the operational staffing levels for the Transit Division are consistently insufficient to cover all scheduled and daily work assignments,” a county document states. “This is, simply put, no longer sustainable as it creates ongoing issues with staff burnout, illness and jeopardizes operational safety.”
Earlier this month, Manatee County reduced the frequency of the Route 3, which runs between Manatee County Public Beach on Anna Maria Island and Walmart on State Road 64, due to a shortage of bus drivers.
On Tuesday, county officials will ask the county commission to approve a long-term solution: the addition of 16 full-time transit bus operator positions and a full-time transit attendant to serve as the “Extra Board” for the division.
“At this point, the Transit Division is at a critical point where simply put, operational staff can no longer sustain fixed-route and Handy Bus service levels by working overtime and double shifts,” the county document states. “The operations staff is burned out and resignations and retirement are on the rise.”
The “Extra Board,” which is common among public transportation service providers throughout the county, would cover all open work assignments to maintain service delivery, according to the document.
“The ‘Extra Board’ will relieve the continual stress on the Transit Division workforce,” according to the document. “The additional service attendant will help to create balance work assignments and work shifts.”
But the additional bus operators will come at a cost. For the remainder of this fiscal year, it will cost $180,316 and the staff addition in the upcoming fiscal year will cost $769,348.
“Funds will be budgeted in a reserve in the FY 2018 budget and an independent study will be done to evaluate scheduling, staffing and compensation for transit operators prior to October 1 of this year,” according to a county document.
If approved by the commission Tuesday, the county hopes to have the additional operators hired, trained and placed into service by the fall.
Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker mentioned the transit staffing shortage during a luncheon last week.
“The biggest challenge that we have is in our workforce,” he said. “Training to recruit and retain employees in this environment is difficult. We lost about every profession we have. It’s a tough sell. We are seeing a lot of turnover.”
If somebody’s waiting at the bus stop to get work and the bus doesn’t show up, Hunzeker said they aren’t going to get to work.
“It’s getting real close because we just can’t recruit them at the salaries that we offer,” he said.