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The MBTA’s Bus Driver Shortage Is Getting Even Worse

4:34 PM EST on January 19, 2023

An MBTA recruiting ad on a trash can in downtown Boston.

A year after cutting bus service because of a shortage of bus drivers and launching a new recruiting effort to hire new drivers, nearly one in four bus operator positions at the MTBA remains unfilled, and the shortage appears to be getting worse.

"The T has 1,512 bus operators and 350 vacancies," wrote MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo on Thursday in an emailed response to an inquiry from StreetsblogMASS.

That figure is considerably higher than previously-discussed numbers. In a November MBTA board meeting, for instance, Doug Johnson, a transportation planner at MassDOT, reported that the T was trying to hire for 300 bus operator vacancies.

In December 2021, the T announced a wide-ranging slate of bus service cuts because it did not have enough drivers to meet schedules.

In the same month, the MBTA's Board of Directors approved a new union contract that authorized large new hiring bonuses for new hires – but neglected to address a low starting wage for new hires.

An MBTA advertisement for bus operators at a bus stop near Albany Street and Massachusetts Avenue.
An MBTA advertisement for bus operators at a bus stop near Albany Street and Massachusetts Avenue.
An MBTA advertisement for bus operators at a bus stop near Albany Street and Massachusetts Avenue.

Since then, the T has staged aggressive recruitment and advertising campaigns, rolled out training programs to help new hires get their commercial driver's licenses, and implemented bonus payments for new hires.

Those efforts have evidently had little effect.

At Thursday's meeting of the Planning, Workforce, Development & Compensation Subcommittee of the MBTA Board of Directors, board member Thomas Koch, the Mayor of Quincy, asked T staff to give an update on the agency's bus driver hiring efforts.

David Panagore, the T's Chief Administrative Officer, told Mayor Koch that "we're making progress in terms of our filling our class sizes. In terms of the bucket to fill overall, with retirements, etcetera, we're holding steady ... (but) we're not making the kind of progress we want to see."

However, Panagore was unable to give board members a specific number of vacancies.

"Going forward when we have these updates, I don't think it's much to ask to have these numbers right now," Mayor Koch responded. "That's the point of these meetings."

Current starting wages for a new MBTA bus driver are set at $22.21 per hour and require a commercial driver's license. By comparison, the starting wage for new drivers at the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority in Lawrence and Haverhill – a region with a considerably lower cost of living – is $26.23 per hour.

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