Metro Transit Turns to Apprentice Program to Address Bus Driver Shortage

September 18, 2018 04:56 PM

State labor and economic officials have teamed up with Metro Transit to offer a potential solution to a shortage of bus drivers. 

Metro Transit is turning to an apprentice program, and the hope is they'll attract new employees so that riders won't experience any more disruptions to their routes. 


Since 2013, Metro Transit reports a 33 percent dip in those applying and right now they're short about 90 drivers from their normal fleet of 1,600.

"We're continuing through a lot of different tactics to bring people in," said Brian Funk, deputy chief operating officer for bus with Metro Transit. 

ATU Local 1005 union president Ryan Timlin attributes that to retirement, stress, and even high-profile attacks on drivers. The shortage means Metro Transit had to cut certain trips on seven routes. Those routes include: 3, 54, 71, 94, 262, 263, and 270. 

"Right now it's really tough, you have the shortage of drivers which has led to service cuts and nobody wants that," Timlin said. 

But now, Metro Transit is trying a new approach, proven to be successful for other industries. 

"The apprenticeship model has been around for a very long time," said John Aiken, director of Labor Standards and Apprenticeship with the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. 

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Under this apprentice program, operated by the Minnesota Departments of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and Labor and Industry (DLI),  once new drivers complete their training, they'll be paired up with a more experienced, mentor driver for about a year.

"What this does is it ensures during that critical first year people have the support they need so they don't walk away if they have a bad day. It really allows that outlet through a peer who can understand what the challenges are of a new job," Funk said. 

Timlin agrees the first three years for operators are tough.

"This is extremely needed," Timlin said. 

Timlin believes this is a step towards addressing stressors that will go a long way in retaining drivers and keeping routes open for riders.

"These are long-term jobs and I think this will help show that this is a career and a career path," Timlin said. 

Metro Transit is kicking off the program this month with 40 new bus operators. The hope is this initiative will bring on as many as 200 new employees in the next few years. 



Brett Hoffland

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