CATA is reducing MSU and Lansing bus routes due to driver shortages when classes resume

A passenger disembarks from a bus at the MSU-CATA Transportation Center on the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing on Wednesday, March 18, 2020.

EAST LANSING — A shortage of bus drivers is leaving some Michigan State University students out in the cold.

When classes resume Monday at MSU, those taking the bus to, from and around East Lansing will have to settle for less frequent services after the Capital Area Transportation Authority cut their routes.

CATA announced Jan. 14 that it would reduce pickup frequencies from 10 to 30 minutes on six weekday routes serving MSU: 30, 31, 32, 33, 38 and 39.

Six non-MSU routes will also be reduced, including Routes 1 and 3 from downtown Lansing to the Meridian and Lansing malls, Routes 5 and 9 to South Pennsylvania Meijer, Route 8 to Holt, and Route 18 along Mt .Hope Road to MSU.

The agency will also continue vacation service reductions through Feb. 6 on off-campus routes serving MSU, including 20, 23 and 24.

MSU service reductions began on Jan. 17 when many students were still at home because classes began remotely that semester.

Now that they’re heading back into the classrooms, students are worried about long waits in the cold.

Deon Bennett, a Detroit senior, rides the bus every day during semester. He learned of the schedule reduction after seeing a petition calling for MSU bus routes to run every five to 10 minutes, which had received 1,700 signatures as of Friday.

“There’s so much going on, including COVID, that it’s quite a hassle to get to class,” Bennett said.

However, according to spokeswoman Lolo Robison, CATA has no other options.

Between bus drivers facing COVID-19 and a surge in retirements, the agency faces a serious driver shortage. The CATA leaders met this week and realized their list of 50 riders is short, Robison said.

“We’re down riders and we’re very, very serious about hiring new employees,” she said. “We’re not sitting idly by. We are looking for solutions on how we can cope.”

The most obvious solution – hiring more drivers – is still a work in progress. CATA launched a driver recruitment campaign from May 2021 to December 2022 and held job fairs in May and June, which Robison said were “very successful”. Recruitment is ongoing as CATA continues to accept applications.

The story goes on

A new class of bus drivers will start their training in February. Training generally lasts about six weeks, Robinson said.

CATA offers a starting wage of $17.50 per hour and a $2,500 sign-up bonus after the first year. Hourly rates are $27.78 an hour, Robinson said — the highest among transit systems statewide.

Based on driver availability, CATA plans to use “trippers” or additional buses that follow other buses to pick up drivers left behind by a full bus.

To offset the impact of reduced schedules, MSU is offering MSU students free parking in metered lots and spots not already reserved for MSU employees, spokesman Dan Olsen said.

MSU has offered free student parking during most online classes for the first three weeks of the semester, he said, and will continue to offer it through next week. MSU officials will reevaluate the bussing issue at the end of the week.

Bennet said fewer bus trips not only mean waiting longer in the cold, but also longer after dark, raising concerns about student safety.

He also said more students are likely to be late for class. Bennett hopes faculty will apologize to students who are late if they have had to wait longer for a bus.

“If we don’t bring more bus drivers to campus, the faculty will need to be more understanding of the students who make it to class,” he said.

Contact Mark Johnson at 517-377-1026 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @ByMarkJohnson.

This article originally appeared in Lansing State Journal: CATA Reduces MSU Bus Lines Due to Driver Shortages as Classes Resume

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