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tcat2 120Due to chronic bus operator shortages, the TCAT Board of Directors, in a special board meeting Monday, voted 7-0 (with two board members absent) in favor of reducing service for the transit agency's summer service period, which begins Sun., May 22 and ends Sat., Aug. 20.

The changes include trimming trips or making adjustments to 21 of TCAT's 33 routes to include: Routes 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22, 31, 32, 36, 37, 41, 51, 52, 65, 72, 81, 82, 90, and 93.

TCAT normally reduces service in the summer as most college students, many of whom are TCAT riders, leave the area for summer break. Nonetheless, TCAT will make additional cuts on certain trips this summer due to a shortage of bus operators and to level with the number of drivers it has to fulfill service. Despite intensive recruitment efforts, TCAT is short about 10 bus operators to meet demand for summer service. The other option would have been to continue using contract drivers, which costs TCAT about $33,000 a week. "TCAT cannot continue to incur these contract costs on a long-term basis," according to the resolution passed by the board this afternoon.

TCAT Acting General Manager reiterated to the board and to those in the audience at today's meeting that even though TCAT "has pulled out all the stops," for recruitment, hiring bus operators has been a challenge due to a number of factors to include a tight labor market for commercial bus operators that extends nationwide, as well as an improvement to the local economy, which in Tompkins County, is at or near full-employment levels.

Though the cuts are deemed emergency/temporary changes, thus not requiring TCAT to hold public hearings under Federal Transit Administration requirements, TCAT held four public information sessions last week and received comments and suggestion via email and a special phone line set up for feedback. More than 30 people attended the public information sessions and TCAT received an additional 16 comments via email and phone.

"We felt transparency was extremely important," Eccleston said.

TCAT Service Development Manager Doug Swarts told the board that his team will try to make changes to the adjustments and/or cuts based on public feedback to reduce inconvenience to riders, for example, adjusting timing of trips adjacent to trips slated for removal in order to maintain transfers to and from other routes and to minimize disruption to affected passengers as much as possible.

Meantime, long-time Board Member Jennifer Dotson, who is chairperson of the board's Human Resources Committee, said that filling bus operator positions remains "the organization's No. 1 priority."

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