• A rise in retirement among city bus drivers is "throwing transit systems into crisis," according to a new report. 
  • At the same time, transit agencies are struggling to find younger talent to replace retirees. 
  • The American Public Transportation Association found that 71% of 117 transit agencies have cut or delayed services. 

The US is facing a critical bus driver shortage, as cities dependent on public transit struggle against a rapidly aging workforce and ongoing national labor shortage

According to a new report from TransitCenter, an organization focused on improving public transit in cities around the US, the bus driver shortage is "throwing transit systems into crisis." The findings show the declining number of city bus drivers is the result of rising retirements, paired with a growing difficulty to recruit younger staffers to fill the void. 

In 2021, the average transit worker was 10 years older than the average American worker, at 52.7 and 42.2 years old, respectively, TransitCenter reported. As older workers increasingly hang up their hats, agencies are struggling to find replacements due to a variety of factors, including concerns over compensation, safety, and scheduling.

"While once a desirable and valued middle-class job, transit operations jobs have increasingly failed to keep pace with how work has evolved," TransitCenter wrote in its report, citing low starting salaries and slow pay growth as primary barriers to attracting new staffers. 

Instead, many younger drivers are seeking to work with private companies and taking on jobs as truck or delivery drivers that offer better pay and increased flexibility. According to TransitCenter, nine in ten public transit agencies reported difficulty in filling positions, noting that bus driving roles were the hardest to hire.

Prospective bus drivers are increasingly turning to more lucrative roles like truck driving. Foto: Alistair Berg/Getty Images

As a result, bus services across the country have been forced to reduce services. A February study conducted by the American Public Transportation Association found that 71% of the 117 transit agencies surveyed had to either cut or delay services as a result of labor shortages. 

And while the pandemic played a significant role in speeding up the dip in bus drivers, TransitCenter's findings show it would have happened regardless due to the aging bus driver workforce. Concern over increased retirements first arose in 2015, when transit agencies first began noting the aging workforce and seeking ways to counteract it. 

Still, TransitCenter said the dearth of drivers is not beyond repair, and will require significant system improvements, and collaboration among both state and federal organizations. 

"While the problem is multifaceted, many of the solutions are well within the control of relevant agencies," TransitCenter wrote. "By taking steps to improve the quality of the job now, agencies can develop a stable, healthy, and satisfied 21st-century workforce."

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