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Published: Sunday, 10/31/2004

Driving for TARTA

The public is as adamant about TARTA maintaining high standards for its drivers as is the agency. But a shortage of part-time bus drivers means full-time drivers must work more overtime, and at some point, public safety could be jeopardized.

Much of the blame for TARTA's dilemma lies in the fact that part-time drivers' hours are limited, they receive no benefits, and it takes four years to have a shot at full-time status. Many decide not to stick around.

TARTA expects to promote 11 part-timers to full-time positions soon. But that will still only be 165 drivers to bus some 18,000 riders on its 35 routes every day.

No wonder TARTA can't keep part-time drivers. It's simple math. Part-time drivers are paid $12.74 hourly, but they can't drive more than 20 hours weekly. A full-time driver is guaranteed a 40-hour workweek and can make $728 a week before overtime.

It doesn't take much effort to understand why part-time drivers leave to take jobs that offer health care and other benefits. But there's another reason why TARTA has few part-time drivers.

Its standards are high, as they should be. Some applicants fail physical examinations, drug screens, and background checks. Of 770 applicants since January, 47 were offered jobs as part-time drivers. But drug screening and physical exams pared that down to 21 people who began training.

The local transit authority's ordeal is not unusual. Others nationwide also report too few part-time drivers. Akron, for instance, obtains full-time drivers the way TARTA does: New drivers commonly begin on a part-time basis before they are moved up.

Somehow TARTA needs to make the job of part-time drivers more attractive. That, in turn, would attract better applicants.

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