Driver shortage forces more Metro Transit service cuts

Photo by Henry Pan

Metro Transit is once again cutting service due to a lack of drivers. The changes include an 8% service reduction and involve suspending branches or reducing service to run as frequently as once every two hours. This will mostly affect routes serving St. Paul and take effect on Dec. 3. 

This follows several rounds of cuts Metro Transit made over the past year, all because it is short of drivers. In October, Amina Wolf, the agency’s interim deputy director of Garage Operations said they are losing 16 drivers per month. 

Even though the agency got the word out earlier than usual, riders expressed surprise and displeasure. “I didn’t know about the cuts,” said Herman Porter as he rode the 852, an express route that runs between Minneapolis and Anoka.

Porter rides the 852 every day to visit friends and work an on-call maintenance job. Starting in December, the 852 will be reduced to run anywhere between every hour during rush hours on weekdays to every two hours and 45 minutes on Saturdays. Service on Saturdays will start one hour later, while service Monday through Saturday will end up to two hours earlier. 

“I don’t have any way home if they make the cuts,” said Porter.

Jessie Bell, who commutes from Minneapolis to work as a caregiver in Shoreview, will also be affected, as Metro Transit will eliminate the 4:13 pm Route 62 departure from Shoreview that she rides on her way home. 

“That’s gonna be a long walk coming from work,” said Bell on her Route 62 ride home. “[The 62] already comes at a funky time anyway. They’re really jacking it up over here.” Metro Transit will also run the 62 less often, from every 15 minutes between Larpenteur and downtown St. Paul to every 30 minutes. 

The series of cuts that took place over the last year will also result in Metro Mobility being cut in order to stay in federal compliance starting on Nov. 28.

The agency says they’ve tried many ways to hire drivers amid a 1.9% unemployment rate and concerns about working conditions, which include working split shifts and risking assault by frustrated riders. 

“[We are] doing everything we can to reach [BIPOC] communities through creative marketing tactics and removing any potential barriers in our recruitment process,” said Wolf at the committee meeting, adding that they attended cultural events, hosted twice-monthly hiring events, scrapped high school diploma and GED requirements to apply, as well as increased wages to $26.16 an hour with up to a $5,000 signing bonus after the drivers’ union agreed in October. 

Move Minnesota wants the agency to do more so riders and drivers can bear the cuts. They want the agency to demand permission from local communities to implement transit-only lanes and technology to give buses instant green lights so their buses don’t get stuck in traffic. The organization plans to rally for its cause outside of Metro Transit’s headquarters, located at  560 N. 6th in Minneapolis on Dec. 1 at 6 pm.

“We have…[asked] Metro Transit to employ more of the tools [such as transit-only lanes and priority green lights for buses]…to counteract the cuts that are happening because of this driver shortage,” said Rockwell. “Continuing to see these cuts and not make these other improvements is not acceptable.”

The D Line, a rapid bus route similar to the A and C Lines, which will begin service on Dec. 3, will operate on transit lanes and green light technology. But it comes with cuts to Route 5 and 721. 

The 5 will only run once an hour and only between Brooklyn Center Transit Center and Chicago and 56th St., while the 721D branch, which operates between Brooklyn Center Transit Center to downtown Minneapolis on I-94 and Dowling Avenues, will be eliminated. 

Other changes the agency plans to make include restoring direct service from New Brighton to downtown Minneapolis for the first time since August 2021 by creating a new Route 25 branch. They will also move Routes 4, 6, 7, 14 and 61 back to Hennepin Ave. after Minneapolis wrapped up construction in September. 

The agency posted schedules on its website on Nov. 3. Metro Transit expects to begin distributing paper schedules at customer service centers and public buildings later this month. They plan to distribute paper schedules on their buses again sometime next year, once they have a vendor to print and store them. 

Sean Rogers of St. Louis Park, who rides the Route 30 to his job in Northeast Minneapolis, was also unaware of the cuts, which would result in the 30 running once an hour at certain times of the day. Rogers wishes the agency would resume distributing schedules on the buses again so they know of the changes ahead of time. “You never know if you have a phone with wifi,” said Rogers as he rode the 30 to work. 

The following routes will be affected by service cuts beginning Dec. 3: Orange Line, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 23, 25, 30, 46, 61, 62, 64, 65, 67, 83, 87, 94, 115, 219, 264, 270, 275, 294, 323, 363, 534, 537, 538, 540, 542, 546, 547, 645, 667, 673, 721, 755, 760, 766, 804, 805, 824, 852. To view a full list of cuts Metro Transit plans to make on Dec. 3, visit bit.ly/MetroTransitPlans.

Those interested in connecting with Move Minnesota around lobbying for transit should contact Julie Johnson at  juliej@movemn.org.

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