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TriMet will reduce or cancel service on ten bus lines in September as the agency’s historic bus operator shortage continues to worsen, the agency announced Wednesday. While TriMet has aimed to strategically reduce its service to lessen the impacts of the shortage, the reductions include the agency’s most popular bus lines that serve low-income communities within the city.
“The trickle-down effects of our operator shortage can cause frustration despite our best efforts,” a Wednesday press release stated. “In short: it’s been a challenge to hire and train enough operators to replace those lost to retirement and attrition.”
TriMet has struggled to staff its bus and MAX routes due to the pandemic-induced labor shortage. In January 2022, TriMet reduced service on 20 of its 84 bus lines because of a lack of drivers available to staff all of the routes. While the agency initially intended the reduction to be temporary, staffing issues have only worsened over the past six months.
According to TriMet spokesperson Tia York, the transit agency is at least 45 operators short for its current reduced service levels, with drivers continuing to leave due to retirement, exiting the industry, or promotion to other critical agency positions.
“We have no bench,” York told the Mercury in an interview earlier this month.
The lack of drivers has caused hundreds of spontaneously canceled buses and MAX trains. To avoid surprise cancellations, TriMet is once again reducing its service levels.
Starting on September 18, TriMet will completely cancel bus lines 50 and 92—which serve Cedar Mill and South Beaverton respectively—and reduce service on low ridership bus lines, including lines 1, 18, and 26. According to York, line 50 averages about 100 rides per week and line 92 saw about 250 rides per week this year so far. Each ride represents a single trip from point A to point B on the bus.
The reductions also include the removal of additional weekday rush-hour bus service on lines 8, 9, and 72. Line 72, which runs along a large portion of 82nd Avenue, is TriMet’s most used bus line and serves low-income Portlanders. The rush-hour trips being cut from lines 8, 9 and 72 were added to the routes prior to the pandemic when peak commuter traffic exceeded the lines’ capacity. York said capacity has no longer been an issue since April 2020. Ridership on TriMet at the beginning of the pandemic plummeted by about 60 percent and has been slow to rebound. As of May 2022, weekly ridership is hovering around 55 percent of pre-pandemic levels.
“The cuts are not expected to have much if any impact,” York said in an email to the Mercury about reductions to lines 8, 9, and 72.
TriMet has ramped up its hiring efforts by raising the starting wage to $25.24 per hour, adding a $7,500 signing bonus, holding mass hiring events, and expanding its advertising to adjacent states. While the monetary incentives have brought in more applicants, the agency only put about 60 people through driver training in May—all of whom are not guaranteed to actually become bus drivers.
Here is the complete list of bus lines that will be affected by the service cuts, per TriMet’s announcement:
• Cancel two bus lines: 50-Cedar Mill and 92-South Beaverton Express
• Reduce service hours on three low-ridership bus lines to only run buses during peak travel time for high school students: 1-Vermont, 18-Hillside and 26-Thurman/NW 18th
• Weekend service will be canceled on 26-Thurman/NW 82nd Ave
• Cancel extra weekday rush-hour trips on three bus lines as peak ridership trends have changed: 8-Jackson Park/NE 15th, 9-Powell Boulevard and 72-Killingsworth/82nd Ave
• Cancel extra trips added during the pandemic for physical distancing on one bus line: 81-Kane/257th
• Reduce frequency on one low-ridership bus line to hourly service: 82-South Gresham
While ridership on TriMet has significantly reduced since 2020, over 1 million people ride public transit on a weekly basis. Riders told the Mercury that the agency’s unreliable service has lengthened their commutes, impacted their ability to perform their jobs, and changed the way they travel around the city if they have other options.