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TriMet increases entry pay in effort to recruit 300 bus drivers

Current and new drivers will see increased pay, as TriMet works to recover from pandemic losses.

PORTLAND, Ore. — TriMet is short about 300 bus operators and is increasing entry pay levels to help recruit needed personnel.

The transit company is increasing entry driver pay to $25.24 per hour, up about $3.50 from before. To retain recruits, TriMet is also offering a $7,500 hiring bonus that will be spread out over the first three years of employment.

Hiring is the number one priority at the transit agency right now, according to spokesperson Tia York, who described the current shortfall as "the most severe staffing shortage in TriMet history."

The problem is the result of several years of challenges. In the early months of the pandemic, TriMet ridership was down as much as 75%. Many commercial drivers have also been part of the so-called Great Resignation across the country.

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"If we don't have enough operators, it's our riders who could potentially suffer," York said.

Demand for public transportation is up again, as many people travel and work in person. TriMet provided more than a million rides in a single week, according to York.

"It was a milestone week," she described.

TriMet has been pushing an ongoing hiring campaign to attract bus operators. Video testimonials from current drivers are being advertised on social media platforms across several markets, including in Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada and Arizona.

The increased pay isn't just for new drivers; it also applies to existing drivers who were hired before the bump, in order to "show all of our bus operators we appreciate what they do for TriMet," York said.

The pay scale increases over time to $68,000 per year, which does not include increased potential for overtime.

A commercial driver's license and bus-driving experience are not required. TriMet will provide paid training.

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"We need to bring in more workers," said Bill Bradley, executive board officer for ATU Local 757, the transit union representing TriMet operators. "The existing drivers have been through a lot through this pandemic. We've got to find ways to make the jobs safer, more enjoyable [and have a] better work-life balance."

The union is set to negotiate with TriMet later this year, with hopes to cement the higher pay long term.

Bradley said transit companies stand to gain from investments in employee retention, especially now that ridership is increasing.

"If you look at gas prices, used car prices, increased traffic..." he said. "That's our competition."

TriMet's recruitment page has a link to job applications.

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