Hiring challenges, COVID contributing to Metro Mobility bus driver shortage

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There’s a shortage of drivers for Metro Mobility buses.

The Metropolitan Council says hiring challenges and COVID-19 are to blame.

The team at WorkAbilities in Golden Valley depends on these services.

"We want to give people a good day, we want to put a smile on their face," said Luana Ball, executive director of WorkAbilities.

Luana Ball is the Executive Director at WorkAbilities, a non-profit day services program that provides support for around 250 people with developmental disabilities.

"They range in service needs from high medically fragile more physically involved to people who are really independent," Ball said.

Ball says 90% of them rely on Metro Mobility to get there.

"The reason I’m doing this, is because I like people," said Harry Ratliff, a Metro Mobility bus driver.

Ratliff has been a bus operator for almost seven years.

"I notice on days when I’m on vacation or off they ask about me — they say ‘where is Harry,’" Ratliff said. "So that tells me I’ve done something right and I feel good about that."

But the Met Council says they’re dealing with a driver shortage.

"We’ve never had a driver shortage quite like this," said Stacie Richter, owner of Transit Team.

Stacie Richter and her husband run Transit Team. They’re one of the providers of Metro Mobility and they hire the drivers that help people who are older, have a disability, or have a health condition, get to where they need to go every day.

"For a lot of them they may live alone or not get out very often and Metro Mobility is their lifeline," Richter said.

The Met Council says their active driver count with Metro Mobility is 17% below their target number — and another 8% is out of work because of COVID-related issues.

"It’s just a perfect storm right now," Richter said.

The staff at WorkAbilities is hoping it doesn’t get worse.

"Huge impact, these individuals need very specialized transportation," Ball said. "We wouldn’t be able to operate."

For anyone interested in becoming a bus operator, Ratliff says it’s about much more than just driving.

"A wise old sage once said to me he said Harry if you want to be happy help somebody and that’s what we do every day here," Ratliff said.

"It’s not just a job, it’s something that you’re really making an impact on your community," Richter said.

For more information on becoming a bus operator for Metro Mobility visit Transit Team here or First Transit here.