City blames 'statewide driver shortage' for route cuts


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Cutbacks on the frequency of routes run Gainesville's Regional Transit System will be felt most by students at the University of Florida who fund the largest share of the bus system's revenue.

The city released its anticipated list of route reductions on Monday. The cutbacks will affect 17 routes, although none will be eliminated entirely. Some of the routes will be delayed as much as 15 to 35 minutes. None of the routes affected are in east Gainesville.

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Services will be reduced until May 5 due to a “statewide bus operator shortage, a competitive job market and low unemployment locally," the city said in a press release. RTS will then go into its regular reduced summer route schedule.

The Sun reported on the expected changes last week. Union representatives blame the city’s low pay as a root issue in the struggle to attract bus drivers.

“This issue is not unique to Gainesville. Many transit agencies across the state are experiencing severe driver shortages, including Jacksonville and Orlando,” the city said in a press release.

However, transit officials for Jacksonville Transit Authority and Orlando Lynx said they are not experiencing “severe” shortages.

Lynx spokesman Matthew Friedman said bus operators make up the agency’s largest workforce at 700 drivers. Due to the sheer volume of employees, he said, the agency is always actively looking to hire. He said Lynx isn't experiencing a shortage.

JTA spokeswoman Leigh Ann Rassler also said that the agency isn't in a shortage and that JTA is looking to expand services and routes.

In December, with help from a $17 million grant, JTA will launch its third and longest rapid transit route, stretching 18.5 miles after receiving a $17 million grant.

In 2016, JTA won the “Outstanding Public Transportation System Achievement Award” American Public Transportation Association (APTA) for the best midsize transit agency in North America. The category looks at agencies that provide trips for 4 million to 20 million passengers. RTS totaled 9.3 million riders in 2016. JTA had 10.6 million in 2017.

“It’s like winning an Oscar,” Rassler said.

The RTS reduction will result in approximately $420,000 in lost revenue through May 4. RTS has expereinced a drop in ridership and revenue over the last couple years.

The routes affected are: 1, 9, 10, 12, 19, 20, 29, 34, 35, 38, 40, 117, 125, 126. Later Gator's Wednesday service will be discontinued and Routes 300, 301 and 302 on Thursday through Saturday will be delayed by 10 to 15 minutes.