TriMet will reduce service on 20 of its 84 bus lines starting January 9 due to a shortage of bus drivers, the transit agency announced Friday.
The reductions will decrease TriMet’s total bus service by 9 percent, which, according to the agency, will be comparable to the bus service TriMet adopted at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020. The reduced bus lines are throughout TriMet’s service area, including Barbur/Sandy Boulevard (Line 12), McLoughlin/King Road (Line 33), and Cesar Chavez/Lombard (Line 75).
“We apologize to our riders as we would much rather be expanding service, but by taking this step we increase the schedule reliability so riders experience less canceled or late buses,” TriMet said in a press release.
The affected bus lines will see reductions in weekday services. Most bus lines will swap their weekday schedule for their Saturday service schedule, but riders are encouraged to check TriMet’s Trip Planner after the service changes take place to see how their routes will be impacted. The upcoming reductions in service are in addition to TriMet’s existing weekend bus, MAX, and WES service reductions that have been in place since April 2020.
According to the agency, TriMet aimed to maintain service in areas of the metro region with high concentrations of low income communities and communities of color. Routes that offer connections to education, job, and health care services were also considered when TriMet was deciding which bus lines to change.
TriMet attributes its staffing shortage to a gradual loss of employees and a lack of applications for new bus operators. According to TriMet spokesperson Roberta Altstadt, the transit agency is currently short 45 drivers and has been offering bus operators extra shifts during their usual time off to compensate for the shortage.
TriMet’s bus operator union, however, believes the agency is short an estimated 60 drivers and notes that current bus operators are exhausted trying to cover the gaps.
“The drivers out there—full-time and part-time operators—are really tapped out,” said Shirley Block, president of Amalgamated Transit Union 757, which represent’s TriMet’s bus operators. “They're overworked. They're exhausted. They're nervous because we have so many assaults that are going on right now.”
In the past year, Block estimates she has received over 300 texts from bus drivers reporting being attacked by riders and people at transit platforms. According to Block, the number of operators reporting being assaulted while driving significantly increased during the pandemic. The union has asked TriMet to increase the agency’s security presence throughout the system.
While TriMet has worked to entice new hires and retain existing drivers through a $4 wage increase, a $2,500 new signing bonus, and additional driver appreciation bonuses, Block reports that newly hired drivers are leaving because of safety concerns.
“A lot of [the newly hired operators] just come in and they see what's going on and they just decide, ‘Well, this ain't for me,’” Block said. Block also notes that it was hard for drivers to feel appreciated while working as frontline workers throughout the pandemic.
Altstadt stressed that TriMet is experiencing the same pandemic-related worker shortage as many other companies, and that the agency is working to expand its security personnel.
"The safety of our employees is paramount and we are working to increase the number of safety and security personnel working on our system for both the safety of our employees and our riders," Altstadt wrote in an email to the Mercury.
Maia Vásconez-Taylor, an organizer with bus riders advocacy coalition Bus Riders United, expressed disappointment at TriMet’s decision, stating that reducing bus service should be a last resort.
“Bus operations should be the biggest priority [to TriMet] considering it is the biggest priority to riders,” Vásconez-Taylor said. “That should be the last thing they cut.”
TriMet’s service reductions are temporary, but will remain in effect until the agency can hire and train more bus operators.
Here is a complete list of the reduced bus lines:
• Line 4-Fessenden
• Line 8-Jackson Park/NE 15th
• Line 12-Barbur/Sandy Blvd
• Line 15-Belmont/NW 23rd
• Line 17-Holgate/Broadway
• Line 21-Sandy Blvd/223rd
• Line 30-Estacada
• Line 33-McLoughlin/King Rd
• Line 35-Macadam/Greeley
• Line 52-Farmington/185th
• Line 54-Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy
• Line 56-Scholls Ferry Rd
• Line 62-Murray Blvd
• Line 67-Bethany/158th
• Line 70-12th/NE 33rd Ave
• Line 71-60th Ave
• Line 75-Cesar Chavez/Lombard
• Line 76-Hall/Greenburg
• Line 77-Broadway/Halsey
• Line 78-Denney/Kerr Pkwy