Sick days force Westmoreland Transit to cancel some Pittsburgh routes due to driver shortage
Driver shortages that caused Westmoreland County Transit Authority bus routes to be canceled this week is expected to continue for some time and could further disrupt daily schedules, officials said.
One outgoing route from Pittsburgh was canceled Thursday, a day after the authority was forced to cut two bus runs from the city as a way to deal with staffing issues caused by drivers calling off due to sickness, according to the local general manager of National Express Transit, the private company hired by the transit agency to operate its bus service.
“We’ve contacted the CEO of the company, and they assured us they are working on it. There is nothing this authority can do about their personnel issues,” said Alan Blahovec, executive director of the transit authority.
The authority operates 20 weekday bus routes, including its popular commuter service to Pittsburgh. The driver shortages caused shuffling on some routes, including on Thursday when the authority did not have enough vehicle operators for all of its afternoon routes.
The one canceled route, the 5 p.m. outgoing 2F trip from Pittsburgh to Delmont, typically has one of the lowest volume of riders, officials said. Three other trips on that route left the city on schedule, Blahovec said.
The driver shortage also prompted a change to the authority’s local bus service. A smaller, paratransit vehicle typically used for door-to-door shared rides on the GO Westmoreland service was placed on the local bus service Thursday for a route between Greensburg and New Stanton.
“We apologize and we are trying to cover all of the service. We’re working with National Express for a long-term solution,” Blahovec said. “We’re providing terrible service at this point, and it can’t continue.”
National Express has dealt with driver shortages for the better part of the last year. After a heavy recruitment drive in 2018, the company filled most vacant GO Westmoreland driver positions. It is still understaffed for the fixed route bus service, which requires operators to have commercial drivers’ licenses, unlike paratransit drivers.
The company needs 50 drivers to fully staff the bus service. It’s current roster has 43. On Thursday, as many as 10 called off sick, according to Bill Steinmetz, general manager for National Express’ Westmoreland County operation.
“People are out sick, and we can’t get others hired fast enough,” Steinmetz said.
Three new drivers were recently hired and will begin a four-to-five-week training course on Monday. It will be a least a month before they are cleared to begin driving authority buses. Another training class is expected to start afterward, he said.
“There is not an immediate fix, but we’re getting there,” Steinmetz said.
The authority last year rehired National Express to a five-year, $39 million contract to operate the paratransit and fixed-route bus services.
Since October, the authority has imposed more than $100,000 in fines against National Express for maintenance and operation failures, including service issues related to missed routes.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293 or [email protected]