Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

More MCAT Drivers Needed | Manager Wants Funds for More Hires -- and Better Pay Incentives

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

More MCAT Drivers Needed | Manager Wants Funds for More Hires -- and Better Pay Incentives

Article excerpt

MANATEE COUNTY

MANATEE COUNTY -- Manatee County Area Transit is offering free rides Tuesday to promote public transportation as a way to reduce local road congestion and air pollution.

But behind the pitch for new riders is a transit system stressed by a driver shortage, a lack of retention and perceived low pay.

Currently, MCAT has five vacancies among its 84 full-time driver positions, plus seven part-time positions. But officials say that underestimates the true need. At least 16 new drivers are needed to get the service optimally staffed. And higher pay will be needed to retain them.

MCAT operators cover 14 routes, most of which are 5:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Those routes include a trolley on Anna Maria Island that runs every day from 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and another on Longboat Key that runs from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. except on holidays. Plus MCAT provides a door-to-door service for the disabled.

Despite the driver shortage, "we've been able to cover the vacancies and make all of our runs," MCAT manager William Steele said.

Yet keeping the buses running on time requires having drivers work extra shifts and putting supervisors who should be performing other duties behind the wheel, not only to fill vacancies but replace drivers who are on vacation or medical leave.

"We're concerned they're being pushed too hard," Steele said, noting that some drivers have to work six-day weeks or two shifts a day.

Adding to the concern is that 30 of MCAT's drivers are 60 or older.

"We've got retirements coming up," Steele noted.

One driver recently retired after giving just two weeks notice.

Public Works Director Ron Schulhofer said that, though MCAT needs 16 more full-time drivers, he will be pleased if it can get at least eight.

He hopes County Administrator Ed Hunzeker will include his request next month in a presentation to the County Commission about the budget for the fiscal year that begins in October. …

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