Metro is offering new hires up to $2,500 in bonus money to drive a bus, an incentive the agency hopes can help end a driver shortage that has led to reduced service in the region.
Transit systems across the country have been short of drivers amid a worker shortage affecting many industries, as well as competition from delivery services. The omicron variant has exacerbated that shortage, sending waves of drivers home sick and forcing transit systems, including Metro, to cut routes and bus frequency.
Metrobus has been running on a weekend schedule since last month, a roughly 25 percent reduction in service, because of drivers calling in sick. Metro officials said more drivers have been recovering and returning to work in recent weeks, and the transit agency plans to bring back regular weekday service on Monday.
Metro operates as many as 187 routes on an average weekday in the District, Maryland and Virginia using 1,000 buses. Daily ridership averages about 180,000 trips, which is about 60 percent of pre-pandemic demand. Metrobus has retained more passengers than the much larger Metrorail system during the pandemic, relied upon by people with fewer transportation alternatives, according to Metro statistics. Rail ridership is at 20 percent of pre-pandemic levels.
“We want operators with a passion for customer service and who understand how much the job they do matters to the lives of people every day,” Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said in a statement.
As part of its incentive program, Metro plans to give new drivers a $1,000 signing bonus in their first paycheck. Metro requires new hires to have a minimum of a commercial driver learner’s permit. Transit officials will provide the rest of the training needed to obtain a commercial driver’s license.
After completing a required 10-week training program, drivers will receive the remaining $1,500 in bonus pay, Metro said.
Salaries for Metrobus drivers start at $25 an hour after completion of training, plus overtime and benefits, which include health care, retirement savings and paid time off. Metro also provides drivers free transit service on Metrobus and Metrorail.
The transit agency said its recruiting campaign and incentive program will be featured throughout the Washington region on social media, radio ads and bus billboards. Applications can be submitted on Metro’s website, wmata.com.