Kalamazoo Metro is still looking for more bus drivers
The pandemic created a shortage of bus drivers in Kalamazoo and throughout Michigan. Metro Transit is training a handful of new bus drivers, as it continues to look for more.
Alliey Newton is not intimidated by buses.
“I just like big vehicles," she said, calling them "fun."
Newton is already licensed to drive big rigs, but the Benton Harbor native said she wanted to stay in the area.
“I was a previous bus rider, you know, and I got to know a couple of the drivers, and they were telling me about how they loved their job and how it helped them in real life. So, I gave it a go,” Newton said.
Newton is one of four Kalamazoo Metro Transit bus drivers in training.
“We're excited about getting people on board,” said Larry Zuiderveen, a Metro Transit driving instructor for 25 years.
“I've got four very good drivers here that I'm very pleased with their progress that they're making, and look forward to helping Metro train a sufficient amount of drivers so that they can bring their service back, back up to the levels that we had pre-COVID.”
The class gathered at the terminal in downtown Kalamazoo Friday, February 2nd to work on left and right turns. Zuiderveen said the class starts training on a course with cones in the Expo Center parking lot before practicing turns on city streets.
“As they get comfortable with that, we change the traffic situation. We usually bring them up on Western's campus where there's curves and turns and their roadway isn't just, you know, straight 90 degree driving and turns.”
From there, it’s on to busier streets, like Main and Westnedge. If they pass a commercial driver’s license test next month, they’ll start picking up passengers while riding with a trainer until they are ready to go out on their own.
Metro Transit’s Sean McBride said a jobs fair in August helped ease the shortage.
“We're still recruiting. We're not fully there, but we are only down about six full-time drivers and have increased service pretty significantly since we had to do had the job fair in August.”
McBride said that becoming a bus driver isn’t easy. Some of the requirements set by the US Department of Transportation conflict with state law.
“There are several steps you have to pass. It includes drug testing. Marijuana is one of the drugs you have to pass. That's a challenge here in Michigan and has impacted our ability to recruit.”
McBride said Metro Transit is looking to hire six more full-time bus drivers. You can apply at www.kmetro.com.