Get creative in solving bus problems for Syracuse students and Centro passengers (editorial board opinion)

When the bus doesn’t come, people’s lives are turned upside down. Employees cannot come to work. Children cannot go to school. If children cannot make it to school, their parents cannot make it to work. And the dominoes keep falling.

For downtown New Yorkers who depend on the bus, the past two weeks have been tough.

Centro, the region’s bus company, has sharply cut routes and reduced bus frequency due to a shortage of drivers. Chaos ensued. Editor-in-chief Megan Craig spoke to workers who missed shifts. An employer trained carpools and distributed carpool vouchers. A man in Central Square started driving his car to work, at considerable expense. Others have traveled long distances to the downtown bus station or to work.

The Syracuse City School District is also having bus problems – a collapse, really – as many students wait an hour or more for buses that don’t come, editor Marnie Eisenstadt reported last week. Students miss class and their parents miss work. Again, the district and its transportation provider, First Student, say a shortage of drivers is to blame. School districts across the state and nationwide are experiencing the same problem.

Centro and the school district say they are trying to hire and train more drivers – a process that takes weeks or months. People who depend on the bus need solutions now. It takes a lot more urgency and creativity from the smart, well-paid people who run these operations. After huge injections of federal coronavirus aid, they certainly have the money to fix the problem.

Governor Kathy Hochul is Go off the beaten track to alleviate the shortage of school bus drivers.

Hochul called on the Department of Motor Vehicles to speed up the licensing process for new drivers, increase the number of examinations and road tests for commercial driver’s licenses, and ask the 550,000 holders state CDL if they wish to drive a school bus. The state Department of Labor searches its database for unemployed people who are qualified to drive a bus. If the horrific problems in Syracuse and other northern towns in the state persist, Hochul should consider bringing in members of the National Guard to help, as governor. of Massachusetts did.

Schools in the city have received $ 110 million in pandemic relief funds. Why not use some of that money to rent vans to transport the students? Can the municipal government lend to district drivers who are certified to drive trucks and other large equipment?

As for Centro, three interns graduated last week, which helped restore some routes on Monday, CEO Brian Schultz said in a written response to questions. Another class of 15 trainees starts Monday, he said, but they won’t be ready for 10 weeks. Earlier this year, Centro launched an employee referral program that pays $ 1,000 for a successful candidate. On average, a bus operator earns $ 50,000 per year, plus fringe benefits. Centro cannot immediately raise wages to attract more candidates because wages are negotiated in a union contract, Schultz said.

The Centro’s ridership has fallen by 70% due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and it still has not recovered. In August, total ridership was down 39% from 2019 levels and total revenues were down 49% from 2019. More than $ 87 million in federal aid from three relief bills against the coronaviruses cushioned the blow. Mortgage registration tax revenues, which support public transport, are booming thanks to a booming real estate market. Centro collected $ 9.4 million in tax in the last fiscal year, the highest since $ 7.8 million in 2006.

Until more drivers log on, how about using some of that money to buy Uber and Lyft vouchers for drivers stranded by route cuts? Gas and parking vouchers for bus drivers who own a car? A bonus to attract retired drivers or career changers to Centro? Let’s get these creative juices flowing – and fast.

While riders cannot depend on the bus when they need it, it won’t be long before they no longer need it. They will find another way to get to work and school… which will lead to a further decline in ridership and in Centro’s income.

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Editorials represent the collective opinion of the Editorial Board of Advance Media New York. Our opinions are independent of media coverage. Read our mission statement. Members of the Editorial Board are Tim Kennedy, Trish LaMonte, Katrina Tulloch and Marie Morelli.

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