JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The COVID-19 pandemic has changed almost every aspect of life. The trucking and airline industries have been impacted, and it’s no different for the Jacksonville Transportation Authority.
The agency is offering $10-15,000 dollar signing bonuses in hopes of bringing on more drivers.
Neill Buchner takes the bus to welding school every day. But without a ride, “it would mean about a seven-to-eight mile walk every day, twice, with my toolbox,” he told Action News Jax.
People like Buchner rely on JTA buses to get around. Before COVID-19, JTA was transporting around 32,000 riders a day. Now, that’s closer to 18,000. Still, JTA reports it’s short on drivers -- about two dozen of them.
”One missed trip is one too many and we want to make sure the folks who rely on us to get to work, to school, to the hospital have a reliable service,” David Cawton, JTA Communications Director said.
Cawton is hoping a $10-15,000 dollar signing bonus will get more drivers behind the wheel.
It’s something JTA has budgeted for, Cawton said. Ideally, the line would like between 307 and 336 drivers on the roads.
”Ten thousand dollars over three years if you don’t have your CDL – we’ll help you get your CDL – and then of course all of the behind-the-wheel training that you’ll need. If you have a CDL it’s $15,000 over the first three years,” Cawton explained.
Cawton says drivers have been retiring earlier since the pandemic began. That leaves JTA with an eight-week training gap to get a replacement in. But for what it’s worth, the driver shortage doesn’t seem to be felt among riders like Buchner.
”I’m a little bit surprised. Early in the morning sometimes the bus doesn’t come but that’s very rare,” Buchner said.
Pandemic or not, it’s no doubt JTA buses are essential to Jacksonville.
JTA is changing its service on September 27th. Some routes will be eliminated due to low ridership, Cawton says.
JTA will also be expanding its Ready Ride Zone, an on-demand service similar to rideshares like Uber and Lyft. You can read about JTA’s service change here.
You can apply for JTA at https://go.jtafla.com/drive.
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