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Shortage of cambus drivers cuts routes

BY KAITLIN DEWULF | AUGUST 27, 2014 5:00 AM

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Maneuvering a way to class via Cambus this fall may be more challenging than expected for University of Iowa students.

Brian McClatchey, assistant director of UI Management Services, said it has always been a struggle to keep Cambus staff levels up, especially if semester turnover rates are low.

This fall, Cambus fell victim to low staff levels even more so than in previous years.

“Being understaffed is troubling for any organization, but as a transit, someone always has to be on the bus,” McClatchey said. “It does create additional stresses and we have more ground to make up.”

UI Parking and Transportation Director Dave Ricketts said Cambus needs 170 students on staff in order to run full service. Because of a heavy loss in returning student drivers over the summer, the Cambus officials realized they wouldn’t have enough drivers for the fall.

Before the start of the fall semester, there was a notable staff drop from full staff to 135 drivers.

To solve the problem, McClatchey said he began “actively and aggressively” recruiting students.

The methods he used included signs on buses and shelters, Twitter and Facebook, radio ads, raising the starting wage from $10.50 to $11 per hour, and displaying the need for additional drivers on bus destination signs.

McClatchey and Ricketts said they now have enough applications to fulfill the full-service requirements, but they still have to go through the process of hiring and training.

“Learning to drive, service, and operate the buses safely takes some time,” he said.

Ricketts said this training is extensive, a four- to six-week process to train each new bus driver. He said he believes the Cambus service will be back to normal in October, but these next five weeks will be challenging.

Because of the current lack of drivers, unavoidable route cuts — which affect the number of buses on each route and the frequency bus stops are visited — have been made.

UI senior Carmen McCoy, a Cambus driver, said less popular routes have been cut. She said this means students will have to better plan their day around their bus schedules,and maybe take an earlier or later bus than they would like.

“If this problem continues, it will lead to quite a bit of grumpy students trying to get to class,” McCoy said.

UI junior Austin Smoldt-Saenz is one of those unhappy students.

He said these route cuts have caused trouble for him, because he uses “unpopular” routes, such as the Art Building West/Studio Arts bus, on a daily basis.

“Being a studio-arts major, I wasn’t able to catch the bus since it now only stops at the Main Library and the two art buildings,” he said. “I had to get across campus, and missed the bus, and ended up being 40 minutes late to my next class because another bus didn’t come for a half hour.”

Smoldt-Saenz said cutting less popular routes ends up putting studio-arts students in a bad spot, because they are the only ones using these buses to get to classes far off campus.

The frequency for studio-arts buses has been cut in half from what it was last year, McClatchey said. But this is in part because the bus no longer services Hawks Ridge; the UI no longer leases there.

He said he doesn’t anticipate having to make any more route reductions and hopes to avoid this issue in the future by re-evaluating how to keep a steady flow of applications coming in year-round.

“It is certainly less convenient than it was before,” McClatchey said. “The students did benefit from the extra service.”


Cambus

Cambus employees are required to undergo an extensive hiring and training process before they are legally allowed to begin operating the buses.

These requirements include:

• Having had a valid U.S. driver’s license for more than three years
• Listing any driving accidents or suspensions
• Having availability between 14 and 20 hours per week
• Undergoing driving record and reference check
• Passing a drug test
• Obtaining a Class B Commercial License, which includes a course

Source: Cambus Employment Application


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