Faced with continuing challenges of recruiting and training bus operators, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority board of directors on Thursday approved an increase in the starting pay and speeded up the time it takes new drivers to reach the top pay grade.
The VTA board approved an amendment to the labor agreement with Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), Local 265, effective retroactively to Feb.21, that increases the first step in a bus operator salary schedule more than 18 percent, according to information provided by the authority.
First-time bus operators will now get paid $25.76 per hour, a wage rate of 65% of the top bus operator wage, eliminating a trainee rate. Furthermore, the step progression to a driver’s top step in the salary schedule – currently $39.54 per hour – will be reduced from a nine-step, 48-month progression period to a seven-step, 36-month pay progression period.
The current progression period includes a trainee wage that starts at 55% of the bus operator’s top step, $21.80 per hour, with a 48- month progression period that includes a 5% increase every six (6) months until it reaches the top step.
“It is important to have continuous collaboration with our unions, particularly with ATU, on issues of bus operator pay and progression. This will ensure the highest level of service to the public and the County,” said Carolyn Gonot, VTA General Manager.
The VTA, like all transit agencies nationwide, has acknowledged that it is experiencing significant challenges attracting new bus drivers. “This is an approach to address the local recruitment and retention issue,” Gonot’s office said in a press release. “While all transit agencies are experiencing this shortfall, the high cost of living in the Bay Area continues to be a significant recruiting obstacle for VTA.”
In December 2021, VTA and ATU signed a tentative agreement formally extending the terms of the collective bargaining agreement and agreeing to further discussion of the starting wages and pay progression period.
“We need to start thinking about getting people back on the buses and trains, and the way to do that is to ensure you have consistent and reliable service, and when you are short on bus operators, you obviously are facing a dilemma,” John Courtney, ATU Local 265 President & business agent, said in a statement..
“Thank you to the VTA’s administration,” said Courtney. “This is a very good first step to provide our county with good reliable service with good quality operators.”
The estimated impact of this action is approximately $6.56 million. About 884 active drivers are at various stages in their step progression, VTGA said. The percentage of active drivers at the top step represents approximately 75% of the operator population. VTA has over 2,100 employees, and four bargaining units or unions represent approximately 90% of employees.
A training class of 16 new drivers is expected to graduate June 15.