Shortage of bus drivers worsens due to aging workforce and lack of new hires

  • According to a new report, a rise in retirements among city bus drivers is “plunging transit systems into crisis.”
  • At the same time, transport agencies are struggling to find young talent to replace retirees.
  • The American Public Transportation Association found that 71% of 117 transit agencies reduced or delayed service.

The United States faces a severe shortage of bus drivers, as transit-dependent cities struggle with a rapidly aging workforce and a continuing national labor shortage.

According to a new report from TransitCenter, an organization focused on improving public transit in cities across the United States, the shortage of bus drivers is “plunging public transit systems into crisis.” The results show that the decline in the number of city bus drivers is the result of increasing retirements, coupled with an increasing difficulty in recruiting younger employees 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, 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 about pay, safety and schedules.

“While once a desirable and valued middle-class job, jobs in transit operations have increasingly failed to keep up with the changing times of work,” TransitCenter wrote in its report, citing the low starting salaries and slow salary growth as major obstacles to attracting new employees.

Instead, many young drivers are looking to work with private companies and accept trucking or delivery driver jobs that offer better pay and increased flexibility. According to TransitCenter, nine out of ten transit agencies reported difficulty filling positions, noting that bus driver roles were the most difficult to hire.

trucker trucker

Potential bus drivers are increasingly turning to more lucrative roles like truck driving.

Alistair Berg/Getty Images

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

And while the pandemic played a significant role in accelerating the decline in the number of bus drivers, TransitCenter’s findings show that it would have happened regardless due to the aging workforce of bus drivers. bus. Concerns about rising retirements first surfaced in 2015, when transit agencies began noticing an aging workforce and looking for ways to counter it.

Still, TransitCenter said the driver shortage is not beyond repair and will require significant system improvements and collaboration between state and federal organizations.

“While the problem is multi-faceted, many solutions are well within the control of the agencies involved,” TransitCenter wrote. “By taking steps to improve job quality now, agencies can build a stable, healthy and satisfied 21st century workforce.”

Michael A. Bynum