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Santa Rosa bus services temporarily reduced amid worker shortage

Santa Rosa is hiring bus operators

Santa Rosa is hiring bus operators to fill several vacancies at Santa Rosa CityBus.

Rachel Ede, Santa Rosa Transit’s deputy director, said interested applicants don’t need a commercial driver’s license or any previous experience and the city provides paid training.

All new drivers start as part-time drivers.

Trainees will receive five to eight weeks of paid training and work an average of 37 to 40 hours. Hourly pay ranges from $19.04 to $20.88, though the city is temporarily offering the maximum salary to new drivers.

The schedule for regular part-time drivers varies and operators are expected to be available daily. Starting salary for regular part-time drivers is $24.87 per hour.

Drivers also receive benefits that include paid time off, health insurance and retirement.

Applicants must have a satisfactory driving record that meets the city’s driving standards.

People interested in the job can find more information on the employment page on the city’s website. Applications can be submitted online or turned into the Human Resources Department, 100 Santa Rosa Ave.

Victoria Lopez typically catches CityBus Route 5 near the Trader Joe’s off Santa Rosa Avenue to pick up her sister from school in the afternoon.

But Lopez noticed over the last few weeks that the bus, which is scheduled to arrive at 1:45 p.m., was up to 30 minutes late.

Finally signs went up at the stop: The 1:45 p.m. trip on Route 5 was one of 24 daily bus trips that were canceled across the city because of a lack of drivers.

The cancellation has forced Lopez to wait for a later bus or hop on another route on a couple of occasions, she said.

“It’s really frustrating,” said Lopez, one of dozens of public transit users at the Santa Rosa Transit Mall on a recent afternoon.

Santa Rosa CityBus has had to cancel about 10% of the transit system’s daily routes because of operator shortages, said Rachel Ede, Santa Rosa Transit’s deputy director.

The cancellations affect approximately 260 of the system’s average 4,000 daily riders, Ede said.

The transit agency has struggled to fill mounting vacancies since last summer and staffing challenges have been exacerbated in recent weeks by an uptick in COVID-19 cases in the department.

Ede acknowledged service interruptions are a major inconvenience for people who rely on bus services to travel to work, school and appointments. Operators are picking up extra shifts and even supervisors are driving buses as the department works to recruit more drivers, she said.

“We’re doing everything we can,” she said. “Everybody here is pulling really hard to get back to normal and get back to our standards for reliability.”

Other regional transportation agencies said they’ve also been hit by staffing shortages but have been able to maintain service levels.

At Sonoma County Transit, which operates local and intercity bus service, plus connections to Novato and San Rafael, service has not been impacted, spokesperson Daniel Virkstis said.

Passenger rail service also hasn’t been impacted despite workers being out sick with COVID-19 at SMART, which has restored service in the past month to near pre-pandemic levels, General Manager Eddy Cumins said.

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit resumed Sunday service in May and this month added 10 additional daily trips, he said.

Cumins said SMART has been lucky to retain employees amid resignations affecting all economic sectors but he recognized the difficulties other agencies are facing.

“This is a transit concern across the country and I’m happy we’re not currently having those challenges but I appreciate what others are going through,” he said. “We’ve been really fortunate.”

Cancellations across CityBus system

Santa Rosa CityBus has had to cancel some weekday bus routes since early May but implemented deeper cuts this month that are expected to be in place until July 8.

The current cancellations include 24 individual bus trips out of the 300 total trips CityBus operates daily, Ede said.

Cancellations are spread across the city and throughout the day to limit impact to riders, she said.

Ede said reliability is important and rather than trying to operate additional routes without the adequate number of drivers, the agency decided it was better to cancel.

“People need to know the bus is coming when we say it’s coming,” she said. “We’ve heard again and again from riders they understand … they just need to know how to plan in advance so they can make their trips.”

Several riders waiting for their bus at the downtown Transit Mall said they hadn’t noticed any impacts to their daily commute, but 15-year-old Yocelin Ceja said she waited about 40 to 50 minutes for a later trip home from summer classes at Piner High School because the 1 p.m. bus she usually takes was canceled.

Ede said most riders likely can take the bus before or after the canceled route or make other temporary adjustments.

If people can’t find an alternative option, the city has a call-ahead service operated through the city’s ParaTransit operator that riders can use to schedule a pickup in advance.

Check the status of your route

Bus riders can find information on service changes, cancellations and detours on the CityBus website, on Twitter or by calling customer service during business hours at 707-543-3333.

People affected by cancellations can call CityBus to schedule a ride. Riders can call 707-546-1999 to register and schedule trips and trips must be scheduled at least one day in advance.

'Help is on the way’

Ede said CityBus has had trouble recruiting enough workers to fill vacancies when operators retire or leave for other positions.

The department has 58 budgeted bus operator positions but only 43 are filled, she said.

Staffing shortages have been made worse with operators out on leave because of COVID-19. An average of four operators have been out after testing positive or while they wait for a diagnosis in this recent wave of cases, Ede said.

COVID-19 cases in Sonoma County had been creeping up since Memorial Day, with county health officials pointing to holiday and graduation gatherings as possible factors for the increase. But transmission is starting to slow again, as it is in other Bay Area counties.

Ede said the department is working to keep drivers and riders safe by disinfecting all vehicles during the mid-day shift change and each night. Personal protective equipment is available to employees and though masks are no longer required onboard they’re encouraged, she said.

CityBus is working to recruit operators.

There are three people going through a driver training program and four more in the hiring process, Ede said.

The department anticipates additional drivers will be available by early July and the department will be able to resume service on canceled routes, she said.

Ede said bus service is about 80% of what it was before the health crisis and lack of staff has limited the department from restoring additional routes that were cut earlier in the pandemic.

Ridership is steadily rising, though it’s still about 60% to 65% of pre-pandemic levels. Although it has been slow to recover, there is still a need for public transportation, she said.

“Help is on the way but it’s very slow going in terms of recruitment and getting folks on board,” she said.

Staff reporter Martin Espinoza contributed to this story. You can reach Staff Writer Paulina Pineda at 707-521-5268 or paulina.pineda@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @paulinapineda22.

Santa Rosa is hiring bus operators

Santa Rosa is hiring bus operators to fill several vacancies at Santa Rosa CityBus.

Rachel Ede, Santa Rosa Transit’s deputy director, said interested applicants don’t need a commercial driver’s license or any previous experience and the city provides paid training.

All new drivers start as part-time drivers.

Trainees will receive five to eight weeks of paid training and work an average of 37 to 40 hours. Hourly pay ranges from $19.04 to $20.88, though the city is temporarily offering the maximum salary to new drivers.

The schedule for regular part-time drivers varies and operators are expected to be available daily. Starting salary for regular part-time drivers is $24.87 per hour.

Drivers also receive benefits that include paid time off, health insurance and retirement.

Applicants must have a satisfactory driving record that meets the city’s driving standards.

People interested in the job can find more information on the employment page on the city’s website. Applications can be submitted online or turned into the Human Resources Department, 100 Santa Rosa Ave.

Paulina Pineda

Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park city reporter

Decisions made by local elected officials have some of the biggest day-to-day impacts on residents, from funding investments in roads and water infrastructure to setting policies to address housing needs and homelessness. As a city reporter, I want to track those decisions and how they affect the community while also highlighting areas that are being neglected or can be improved.

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