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Quality of Life

NCTD Staffing Shortage Means Canceled Bus Trips, Affecting Riders

A passenger getting on the North County Transit District Breeze bus at the Vista Transit Center, Sept. 10, 2021.
Alexander Nguyen
A passenger getting on the North County Transit District Breeze bus at the Vista Transit Center, Sept. 10, 2021.

Victoria Dellerose commutes an hour by bus from her home in Escondido to her work in Solana Beach. Already this summer, she's had three buses canceled on her, causing her to be late for work.

“That is frustrating ... because I like to get to work on time," she said. "So me not being to work on time was frustrating.”

NCTD Staffing Shortage Means Canceled Bus Trips, Affecting Riders
Listen to this story by Alexander Nguyen.

Dellerose takes the Breeze bus from the North Country Transit District (NCTD). The district, like others in the nation, is facing a worker shortage. This has caused the NCTD to cancel or delay bus trips.

Jonathan Muedano also shares Dellerose's frustration. He's been commuting with the NCTD for more than 10 years. As an avid public transportation user, he'd factor delays into his schedule but still, the cancellations and delays had made him miss his connections a couple of times.

"So it's unfortunate that I try to schedule everything accordingly and I still get affected by it," Muedano said.

In the past week, he's had three buses canceled. The delays were the worse he'd seen in a while, he said.

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While there is a nationwide shortage of bus drivers, locally the problem is more acute at the NCTD. San Diego Metropolitan Transit District (MTS), for example, said it has to cancel trips only on rare occasions. In the past week alone, NCTD has had to cancel more than 40 bus trips.

"NCTD knows how important each bus trip can be to our riders. We take any loss of service very seriously," district spokeswoman Colleen Windsor said in a statement. "We are working with our bus contractor, MV Transportation, to actively recruit new drivers. We are also making make operational changes to lessen the impacts on our customers."

She said the district ran 99.55% of its scheduled service in July.

Some drivers said it's the policies put in place by MV Transportation that are causing people to leave, especially people who have been there a long time. Matthew Snyder, the union representative for the drivers, said there is some truth to that, but it's a combination of factors that are leading to a driver shortage.

The staffing shortage has forced MV Transportation to mandate required overtime. That is causing burnouts, he said.

"Whereas most people go to work in typically work 40 hours a week, some of these runs are like 47-48 hours mandated weekly," Snyder said. "So you know not getting people in the door, coupled with forced overtime and long long weeks. It's a recipe for disaster as of right now."

To attract more workers, NCTD and MV Transportation are offering $2,000 to $5,000 signing bonuses as well as increasing the starting pay for new drivers.

The district is also training drivers for specific routes instead of the entire system to get new drivers in the field faster.

Before the pandemic, there would be anywhere between six to 12 or 14 people in a hiring class, Snyder said. But now, it's closer to two to three. And the problem may get worse before it gets better.

"I know of six people right now, as of this phone call, that are in the process of planning on leaving," he said.

VIDEO: NCTD Staffing Shortage Means Canceled Bus Trips, Affecting Riders

The driver shortage is happening as the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) is working on the draft for the 2021 Regional Plan, which is a long-range blueprint for the region’s transportation system that is pushing for more public transportation.

"We will get past this and as we looked at the transportation system of the future," said Coleen Clementson, SANDAG's regional planning director. "It's really about providing more on-demand travel services so like you're saying, 'What happens if you miss the bus?'"

It's akin to Uber and Lyft, she said.