CHARLOTTE, N.C. — CATS executives met with Mecklenburg County leaders Wednesday, explaining solutions that will not only keep people employed and wanting to drive for CATS, but encourage good work ethic too.
As of June 22, CATS has 74 open positions for bus drivers.
At the Wednesday meeting, CATS CEO John Lewis said there is a glaring issue with current CATS bus drivers' contracts. Each driver is allowed 10 unexcused absences per quarter. In one year, that's 40 additional days off. Lewis said right now on a normal week, they have more than negative-30 drivers available.
"That's less than zero," Lewis said. "We need to close that loophole."
A driver told WCNC Charlotte they believe Lewis is unfairly representing this number.
"If we call out 10 times, and it's on record 10 times, we have 10 unexcused absences," the driver said. "We can be discharged, fired, having 40."
They said drivers they know want to work and it wouldn't be sustainable to use all 10 absences a quarter in an attempt to get 40 days a year off.
There is currently talk of pay raises for bus drivers.
"The highest pay we've seen in CATS history," Lewis said.
Lewis also added they are looking at four-day work weeks, flexible schedules and more. He said a short-term fix could be limiting rides and stops on weekends. This would use fewer employees and allow for the system to catch up and hire open positions.
It comes after over 100 Charlotte bus drivers missed work Wednesday and 97 drivers on Thursday, causing delays for riders, the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) said.
"Due to operator absences, expect intermittent delays on CATS bus routes," CATS tweeted.
A total of 107 drivers were absent from work Wednesday. Cats didn't provide any explanation as to why the drivers were absent immediately. Lewis later directly said they were due to unexcused absences.
“There have only been 6 times in the last 2 months that we’ve had exactly the number of operators for the day," Lewis said.
Thursday CATS confirmed the 97 absences weren’t due to scheduled time off or open positions.
But didn’t say if these were all unexcused.
The driver told WCNC Lewis’s words are causing problems on their routes.
“People were asking us and some of them were angry saying that we were calling out for no reason leaving them stranded with no way to get home or to work. And we're sitting there like, we're the ones taking the brunt of all this," the driver said.
Passengers were encouraged to download the CATS app for real-time data on routes and delays.
Vitor Lara used a CATS bus to get to and from the airport while he was on a connecting flight from Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
"I was pretty scared that you just told me that," he said. "I mean, I have no idea. How is this possible?"
Krissy Oechslin, chair of the Transit Services Advisory Committee, tweeted that the CATS announcement was a good start for being more transparent, but shared concerns that the information wouldn't be widely available to CATS riders.
"This is a great start, @CATSRideTransit, but what % of the bus operator labor force is 107?" Oechslin tweeted. "What are the odds a given passenger will face a delay?"
CATS encouraged drivers to download its app to check on bus delays.
WCNC Charlotte found multiple bus routes throughout the day Wednesday reporting delays. WCNC drove to these areas and didn’t find anyone waiting at the bus stops, but that doesn’t mean many people weren’t impacted. We mostly found delays at CATS hubs near Johnson C Smith University and the Uptown depot.
WCNC Charlotte has reached out to CATS for more information on the labor shortage and operator absences. For the latest breaking news, weather and traffic alerts, download the WCNC Charlotte mobile app.
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