Staffing shortage leads to six-day work weeks for some bus drivers

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Oahu’s city bus drivers are working more hours and it’s raising concerns about the safety of passengers and the drivers themselves.

A viewer reached out to us to find out why so many drivers are working six days a week.

We checked with Oahu Transit Services and learned it’s a staffing shortage.

About 50 drivers are needed, and since it takes time to train them, existing drivers will be working extra until October or November.

Part of the problem is it takes months of training to put bus drivers behind the wheel.

The union for the drivers says OTS should have done a better job planning ahead to avoid this problem.

Oahu Transit Services says for the past month, some drivers have been forced to work extra days in order to make sure all the routes are covered. That has drawn complaints to the union, Hawaii Teamsters, about the safety of everyone on the bus.

“That’s probably the number-one concern, normal fatigue, just working that many hours,” said Hawaii Teamsters president Ron Kozuma. “What we also don’t want to do is put the drivers in harm’s way also. They may get hurt. They may get into an accident.”

The company says there have been waves of recent retirements, from drivers who were hired back in the late ’70s and early ’80s. There was a massive hire back then when the company expanded, and many of those drivers are now eligible to retire. Plus, more drivers are leaving to do something else.

“We’ve had more than we normally would have for people that just go off to try something different, and so I guess both of those things have impacted us,” said Roger Morton of Oahu Transit Services.

Kozuma says it never should have come to this. He says Oahu Transit Services should have known that all these people were retiring, so they should have hired bus drivers well ahead of time.

“That’s the frustrating part, because they know people retire. They know people go on vacation. They know people get sick,” he said.

“Why didn’t you foresee that this was gonna happen if you knew that they were gonna be retiring?” KHON2 asked.

“We did foresee some of it happening. I think we just got caught a little short,” Morton replied. “We probably didn’t anticipate the number of people leaving for greener pastures because of our economy and there’s other things.”

Morton says on some days, there may be seven to 10 drivers who are forced to work that extra day in the week.

To prevent driver fatigue, he says drivers get at least 10 hours off before working that extra shift. He adds that it takes three months to get drivers trained.

“You’re not risking the safety of the drivers or the passengers during that time?” KHON2 asked.

“We are asking them to work an extra day, but we are very careful at watching the type of hours that we’re asking our employees and we’re spreading it out,” Morton said.

KHON2 also asked about the added cost for overtime. We’re told that because there are fewer drivers now, the company is paying less for regular wages and benefits, so that offsets that extra cost for overtime.

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