Butler County RTA needs drivers, or some routes might be suspended

Pandemic-induced staffing issues have once again forced the Butler County Regional Transit Authority to consider temporarily suspending some bus routes and prompted a job fair.

BCRTA will hold a virtual public hearing at 6 p.m. Jan. 11 to get the public’s feedback on temporarily suspending the R-2 route between Oxford and Middletown, the R-4 bus that runs from Hamilton to Tri County and amending the R-6 route that virtually mirrors the R-4 route.

Riders may also submit their comments via the web form or telephone in advance of the hearing. More information about this proposal and public hearing is available at butlercountyrta.com.

“Unfortunately, like many of our peers and other businesses, we continue to struggle as an agency to recruit employees lost during the pandemic and keep up with service demands,” BCRTA Executive Director Matt Dutkevicz said. “We are pulling together all the resources we have and deploying them to the best of our abilities as quickly as possible, but it is simply not enough. Despite avoiding a service suspension in fall 2021, our trajectory has not improved and we are now faced with some tough decisions.”

ExploreButler County RTA won’t suspend routes despite shortages

Trying to help solve staffing woes, Dutkevicz said they will hold an in-person job fair the same day from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at their location on Moser Court in Hamilton. He said he is hoping to hire 40 people that day and they will immediately get the new hires set up with training and other employment-ready tasks.

BCRTA held a similar public hearing in September but the board agreed not to alter its service after receiving comments like this:

“I understand there may be issues with staffing shortages or rider counts of some sort, but I implore you to please consider doing all you can to keep the bus lines in service,” one person wrote. “Something like suspending a bus line, even only temporarily, may seem small and simple in the grand scheme of things, but something so small and simple has a tremendous and important impact on real lives in our communities.”

The board received 47 comments on the proposed suspension and all of them pleaded for keeping the routes.

Dutkevicz said they have been able to hire some people which allowed them to keep the routes afloat but it is has become an uphill battle keeping adequate staffing levels. The strange phenomena that has now been dubbed “The Great Resignation” — on Tuesday the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced a record 4.5 million people quit their jobs in November — has hit BCRTA as well.

“We are definitely part of that,” he said about all the people who have left jobs. “The problem is you bring in 20 people and you lose 50. We have a total staff including administration about 84, 86 people right now, we should probably be closer to 120 or 130. I think we’re going on hiring 50 people this year who’ve actually started the process and I’ll bet we’ve retained 10. It’s really weird, new employees, I don’t know if it’s the competition but we have a lot of people start and work a day or two and then they’ll disappear.”

Dutkevicz said for the first time in 20 years they are offering benefits — and an opt-out bonus for those who choose not to participate — and he is awaiting a third-party wage study that could prompt hiking the $15-per-hour starting pay.

Butler County Development Director David Fehr, who is also on the BCRTA board, said unfortunately the benefits package hasn’t really given them the hiring boost they thought it would, “so the next thing you look at is wages.”

“I think part of the problem is Cincinnati Metro had a fairly significant tax increase, I think they were able to bump up their wages and we do compete with them a bit for drivers and things, and we’ve all read the school districts are having issues with school bus drivers,” Fehr said. “So we’re just all just competing for a seemingly smaller pool of people who are qualified to do the job or want to do the job.”

The RTA won’t touch the job connector routes because those are considered essential or the highly popular BGo Uber-like rides, that skyrocketed 84% from 17,732 trips January through November 2019 and 34,155 for the same period last year. Dutkewicz said they have had to deny about 930 BGo trips per month due to the driver shortage.

Ridership on the free fixed routes they are considering temporarily suspending has plummeted. The Route 2 buses went from 9,663 total trips pre-pandemic compared to 1,504 for the same period last year, the Route 4 trips went from 9,005 to 7,650.

Amy Miller who is in charge of the Area 12 OhioMeansJobs centers in Butler, Clermont and Warren counties, said employees are definitely in the driver’s seat these days and BCRTA is “definitely not alone.”

“A variety of employers we work with are facing this hiring crisis,” she said. “The good news is those people who are looking for work or to change careers or to even upscale there are lots of opportunities right now,” Miller said. “Everyone who comes in to our OMJ center can be linked with employment and usually within a matter of days can be hired on. It’s definitely a job seekers market.”

Job seekers can fill out an application for BCRTA jobs prior to the job fair at butlercountyrta.com/doing-business-with-us/careers.

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