COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL)— Public transportation has been a vital part of Columbus for nearly 100 years.
“Public transportation in any city is the lifeblood. It is what makes the city grow it. It brings in development it. It provides a means of livelihood for people, especially if you have a certain population like Columbus, over 200,000 people,” Director of METRA Transit Rosa Evans said. “In order for this city to grow, you have to be able to get people where they need to be.”
METRA Transit has been servicing residents of Columbus since 1967, now they are looking to expand their crew.
During the State of the City address, Mayor Skip Henderson addressed an ongoing labor shortage in public safety and transportation. Averaging 2,500 to 3,000 trips a day, METRA has been experiencing this shortage for the last three years.
“As a matter of fact, METRA has been operating weekend rounds on weekday rides. What that means is all the busses are still running, but whereas we used to wait for 20 minutes if you missed a bus to get the next one. Now you’re looking at about an hour and a half,” Mayor Henderson said. “Think about the significant impact that has on families who do not have alternative transportation. So, if you missed that bus, you’re now an hour and a half late to work. That puts your job in jeopardy. These are people who can ill afford to lose those jobs.”
During the peak of the labor shortage, Evans herself got behind the wheel for the first time in 25 years. She has dedicated her Saturdays to serving the people of Columbus.
“I love people. I love helping people, elderly people, persons with disabilities, people with small children. This occupation is not just a job for me, it’s ministry for me because I’m able to give back. It’s rewarding that you can help people get where they need to go. In most cases, it’s for people who rely on public transit. They don’t have any other alternative,” Evans said.
During the State of the City address, there were 20 vacancies of bus operators at METRA. As of Wednesday, that number had already been reduced to 17.
“It’s because of the recent pay study,” Evans believes.
In December, Columbus City Council implemented an $11 million pay scale plan for city workers. For bus operators at Metra, that took their pay from $16 an hour to $21.
“This is really making a big difference. We can tell with even our current bus operators. They were always willing to work, but it makes a difference when you are being compensated for working overtime at time and a half. They’re making $30, $32 an hour,” Evans said.
Despite the uptick in applications METRA has seen since the implementation of the pay scale, they are still looking to put the right CDL bus operators behind the wheel.
“Anyone interested that has a permit or CDL license, full endorsement, that’s where we are looking to recruit because we want someone who we can get in quickly, get the training done and taken care of, and get them on the bus,” Evans said.
She says they aren’t looking for just bus operators, they are looking for dedicated public servants.
“Not everybody can do this. It is important for us to bring in someone who understands the needs of people because we don’t transport cargo. It’s not luggage or packaging or what have you, we’re transporting people,” Evans shared.
The onboarding process takes about two weeks which is followed by four weeks of training with bus operators.
Those interested in applying can head to columbusga.gov/careers or to METRA’s website. For more information on the application process, call 706-225-4581.