Understaffed PVTA system causing overcrowding on buses

PVTA bus riders experience overcrowding, transit system struggles to get more drivers on board

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Lynus Erickson / Daily Collegian

By Chloe Adams, Collegian Correspondent

Numerous bus riders from the University of Massachusetts are noticing how the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) is significantly more crowded this year compared to last year. Transportation systems nationwide are experiencing a staffing shortage amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and the PVTA is not excluded.

Glenn Barrington, department manager of transportation services, said, “We have been facing driver recruitment challenges, and when you have a shortage of drivers, there’s also a shortage of trainers.”

Barrington recognizes how a contributing factor to this issue is how many workers “are also retiring in record numbers, and the industry has been unprepared as a whole” for these staffing shortages.

COVID-19 creates even more difficulties when trying to find new employees to fill up these positions. Evan Garber, a senior political science major and student bus driver, said “we were essential workers throughout the pandemic, but a lot of people would rather find remote work.”

The PVTA prefers to have 160 drivers, but they are currently 45 drivers short from their ideal number with only 115. “Our goal this year is to hire and train 70 new drivers, and we’ll be in much better shape,” Barrington said.

Garber said, “We’re always encouraged to pick up extra shifts, and right now because of the shortage, we have a work-swap system with something called ‘open.’” The term “open” is used when no one is assigned to work a particular shift, and Garber reports there are usually about 30 opens a day.

Due to the lack of drivers, Garber said that PVTA staff members are under a lot of stress. “Everyone is crazy overwhelmed, and people who normally don’t drive, like admin, staff, and even the mechanic, will sometimes have to hop on a bus,” Garber said.

Some students have even been turned away from riding the bus when the overcrowding was at its maximum capacity. “They said the bus was too full to bring more people on, so I had to walk,” said Grace Schmidt, a junior sustainable community development major.

The decrease in buses poses a threat to students who rely on this transit system to get around. Giang Vu, a senior food science major, said, “It would be hard for me if I couldn’t take the bus, especially in the mornings when I have classes at 8:00 a.m. I live a few minutes away from the UMass campus, so I need to take the bus really early, or else I’ll be late to school.” Vu noted that when the buses are overcrowded and there is a lack of seating available, they will sometimes “just pass by.”

In hopes of finding a solution to the PVTA system’s staffing problem, Barrington said, “We try everything we can to promote recruitment. We recruit on the buses and put signs out in the community, and we also promote the position on social media. I know some of the kids here like to use Instagram for that.”

Garber said that the main goal of a PVTA bus driver is to “help get people from point A to point B” as best as they can. “We just want everyone to understand that, if we’re late, it’s because of these crazy circumstances,” Garber added.

Barrington used kind words to describe his fellow employees. “These workers here give us their hearts and souls,” he said.

Chloe Adams can be reached at [email protected]