Ozark Regional Transit Struggles to Retain Drivers, Looks to Raise Starting Wage

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SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KNWA) — Ozark Regional Transit says its struggling with retaining drivers, and changes will have to be made to continue its routes throughout the community.

The bus company is pushing for higher wages for its employees.

“The unfortunate part is, we are below our peers in the area,” Executive Director Joel Gardner said.

Bus drivers at Ozark Regional Transit have a starting wage of $10.50 an hour.

In 2019, they will receive a 2% raise.

But Gardner says that’s still not enough.

“The end of  2017 turnover was 60%. The mid-year 2018 was in the forties,” Gardner said.

The high turnover rate, some say, is because of pay.

Andy McDonald, a dispatcher, says time and money is wasted after a long training process.

“I couldn’t even count on both hands how many people I have seen leave. Some of them will come in, do their 3 weeks of training, and they’re gone,” McDonald said. “That’s just lost money there whenever we don’t retain them.”

If ORT doesn’t look ahead, the minimum wage measure, which requires employers to boost hourly pay incrementally to $11 an hour by 2021, will force significant changes to be made.

“Means we’re going to have to compensate by taking away the number of transit hours that are served throughout the community so that we can go ahead and afford the minimum wage,” Gardner said.

With 40% of  ORT’s budget coming from the cities it serves, Gardner hopes others will consider the importance of this service.

“I would like to see our communities understand the importance of well-paid transit drivers and to be able to help us support that,” Gardner said.

ORT directors will look at any changes to the 2019 budget and formally adopt the budget on December 13.

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