Complaints rise about reduced bus services, but MTD can’t “speed up” training drivers

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The Illinois Terminal in Champaign, Illinois. The terminal provides Amtrak service, as well as public bus service (MTD) for Champaign-Urbana.

In August this year, Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (MTD) announced that many bus routes’ services would be reduced due to a shortage of bus drivers. 

But MTD has 233 bus operators on staff this year, which is one higher in 2020, when there were 232 bus operators were on staff. 

Services are still reduced, however, because many drivers are new and they’re still getting trained for their routes, according to MTD officials. 

Officials said somewhere in the range of 80 to 90 drivers quit and about the same number were hired. 

Amy Snyder, chief of staff at MTD, said that it’s impossible to speed up the training. 

“We have to train our drivers properly; this means we cannot speed up any of the process,” Snyder said. “We’re working hard to train our new drivers. Luckily, we have had lots of drivers applying for our positions. Getting applications isn’t an issue.” 

“Our goal is to provide the best service to our passengers, and we understand we haven’t been meeting those expectations,” she said. “We’re frustrated too.” 

The MTD had a $43,232,000 operating budget and $16,675,700 capital budget for the fiscal year 2020-2021. 

These bus routes include 1 Yellow and 1 Yellow Hopper, 2 Red, 5 Green and 5 Green Hopper, 10 Gold and 10 Gold Hopper, 12 Teal, 13/130 Silver, 16 Pink, 22/220 Illini, 24 Link and 180 Lime. These routes are less frequent at night but are still consistent during the day.

Although passengers are riding during the day, some of them, like Carolina Muñoz, student at the University of Illinois, said they are getting frustrated riding the bus at night. 

“It’s definitely frustrating dealing with busses now,” Muñoz said. “I always need to ride the bus at night, and it comes around every 30 minutes. It wasn’t like that before.” 

In October, MTD released a letter apologizing to their passengers stating, “You deserve better.” 

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This letter was regarding multiple complaints that were issued against the company. 

These complaints range from students not being able to get to class on time, to residents not being able to arrive at their destinations on time.  

A bus driver, who wished to remain anonymous, said they understand the frustration from passengers. 

“I get complaints all the time about our service,” the driver said. “We’re trying our best to deliver the best service we can give. It’s hard when we don’t have the staff needed to do so.” 

Another priority for MTD is safety for both drivers and passengers. 

Some passengers have reported encounters with other passengers not wearing a mask despite      the requirement of wearing one in order to board an MTD bus.

The bus driver said it can be a struggle to deal with. 

“I don’t often encounter these types of passengers, but I’ve heard stories of shouting matches with the bus driver occurring or passengers getting off the bus angrily,” they said. “It’s unfortunate that this is all a debate. We just want to keep everyone safe and comfortable. We (MTD) cannot do that on our own, we need all hands-on deck to do so. I wish everyone could see that instead of arguing.” 

MTD hopes to improve their services throughout the end of the year and continue with its  improvements throughout next year. 

“We know it’ll get better,” Snyder said. “It’s going to take a team effort to do so.” 

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