VIA plans service changes to deal with staffing shortages

Officials hope changes will be temporary

SAN ANTONIO – VIA has been aiming to increase frequency on its routes to make service more reliable. But the COVID-19 pandemic is causing those plans to hit a bump in the road.

“We do not currently have a good match for the amount of service we’re trying to run and the number of operators are available to do that,” said Jeff Arndt, president and CEO of VIA Metropolitan Transit.

So the agency is proposing frequency changes on half of its routes as VIA deals with staffing shortages, like many other sectors. The VIA Board of Trustees will vote on Tuesday on adopting the temporary changes.

“We don’t have the choice of closing for two days a week and then opening at four in the afternoon,” Arndt said. “We have to run, you know, seven days a week. And so in order to do that, instead of closing, what we have to do is trim.”

Juan Amaya, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 694, said VIA has long had issues with turnover and drivers working overtime in response. In the past, VIA was able to hire quickly but a hiring freeze during the pandemic changed that pattern.

“I think the majority of the people that were here, a lot of them were not ready to retire, but due to the COVID-19, they said, ‘Now I have the time. I have the age, it’s time for me to leave.’” Amaya said.

Amaya said the Delta variant has made things worse. Currently, there are 50 to 60 drivers out right now due to either having COVID or having to quarantine. That’s out of more than 800 bus drivers who are currently members of the union.

Both Amaya and Arndt believe the situation will improve by the first of 2022.

“We have classes and training right now, so we’re back to training,” Arndt said. “And so to me, this is a bump in the road and we can move back along the lines of frequent service, expanded service.”

The changes will not impact the expansion of the on-demand VIA Link service, which expands to the Northwest Side next month.

If the board approves the changes, they would take effect Oct. 25.

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About the Author:

Samuel King anchors traffic during GMSA and reports on transportation and mobility issues across the San Antonio region. He joined the KSAT 12 news team in 2020 from KUT in Austin. Samuel was born in Queens, spent time growing up in South Alabama and graduated from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.