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Trailblazer Transit still struggling to hire drivers

Trailblazer Transit continues to have trouble finding qualified drivers, its Joint Powers Board heard at its Thursday morning meeting.
Executive Director Gary Ludwig said Trailblazer plans to have 29 schedules on the road by the end of 2015, the same as it is proposing for 2016.
However, Trailblazer only has about half the drivers it needs to fulfill those schedules.
Ludwig said a scarcity of drivers is not unique to public transit. He noted recent television and newspaper reports about the shortage of truck and school bus drivers.
“It’s not a truck driver problem, it’s not a school bus driver problem — it’s an industry problem,” said Ludwig.
Despite recent increases in salaries, Ludwig said Trailblazer is still having a hard time attracting qualified drivers.
Part of that, he said, is a tightening up of qualifications for licensure.
“People who were qualified before are no longer qualified,” said Ludwig.
McLeod County Commissioner Doug Krueger said the tightening of regulations helps keep unhealthy and unsafe drivers off the road, but also acknowledged that the recovering economy was causing a shortage of qualified workers.
Ludwig said standards are particularly high for transit drivers.
“When you put people on the bus, it’s much more serious,” said Ludwig. “We’re getting thin on qualified applicants.”
And that has meant that Trailblazer has hired drivers that it may not have hired in the past. And the impact has been felt with an increase in minor accidents.
“We used to rarely have an accident,” said Ludwig. “Now we’ve had six within a month.”
Ludwig said all of those accidents were minor. One exception was a two-vehicle accident in which another vehicle ran a stop sign and hit a Trailblazer bus, causing the bus to tip, he said.
But the minor accidents were caused by inattentive driving.
McLeod County Commissioner Ron Shimanski, who also is the Joint Powers Board chairman, said he has reviewed video of some of the accidents.
“It’s unfortunate that our drivers are not as attentive as they need to be in operating these vehicles,” said Shimanski.

For more, see the Sept. 23 print edition of The Chronicle.