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Increased wait times to continue on HRT routes for 'foreseeable future' as hiring struggle continues

Community organization pushes for frequent and adequate bus service in one Hampton Roads city
Posted at 6:10 AM, Jul 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-08 06:13:56-04

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. — Missing a bus in Hampton Roads will likely have you waiting 30 minutes to an hour, but it wasn’t always like this.

Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) scaled back service in early May and said the longer wait times would continue until at least July 1.

“We want that resolved as quickly as we can resolve it, but we can’t resolve it until we have the people to do it,” said HRT spokesman Tom Holden.

In April, HRT said a driver shortage caused by the pandemic was to blame, but since then, job openings have only increased.

The company said it was down 59 service operators in late April and there was an average of about 100 absences per day related to the pandemic. Now, HRT says it is in need of 84 service operators to get the schedule back to where it once was.

Right now, there’s no date for when the schedule will return to normal and when riders can hope to see buses running every 15 minutes.

“The Service Reliability Plan that is in place now will remain in place for the foreseeable future,” said Holden.

Brian Stevens takes the bus three or four times a week and just does his best to work around the wait.

“I have to wait an hour each time — each time I catch the bus, I got to wait an hour,” said Stevens. “Sometimes I have doctors’ appointments I have to go to, you know, so it’s kind of rough with the hour wait.”

Starting pay for a service operator is $15.18 an hour and increases a little more than $1 every 10 months with a cap at $21.69, which equates to approximately $45,115 a year.

HRT says they’re fully aware pay is a driving factor for many employees. Holden says they’re in negotiations with the union and are considering increasing wages.

“We have a $4,000 hiring bonus over a period of time. We have a full benefits package [and] access to a retirement plan,” explained Holden.

The company says it’s also putting a stronger emphasis on career fairs and helping potential employees obtain their commercial driver’s license.

HRT expects the return to regularly scheduled routes will happen in phases. Until then, riders will have to wait it out.

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