KENT, Ohio — Thousands of Portage County residents may be waiting longer to catch a ride in Kent and Ravenna this weekend as the portage area regional transportation (PARTA) scales back due to a shortage of drivers.
“Our drivers, our dispatchers, our schedulers, our supervisors, our office folks were exhausted,” said PARTA General Manager and CEO, Claudia Amrhein. “Those employees who kept working, who didn't get a break, who didn't get to stay home, we've got to honor those people and my biggest concern is keeping them, retaining them.”
Amrhein says their biggest challenge in finding drivers worsened once the pandemic hit.
“We simply can't get anyone to apply for work right now,” she said. “We started in late 2019 working on our wage structure with our drivers’ union to increase our wages and then the pandemic hit."
Amrhein says with Kent State University routes alone, PARTA went from having 58 student drivers in march 2020 to 12. Now, current full-time drivers are now taking on mandatory overtime, while part-time drivers are putting in more hours. As for routes, five of them including all Saturday routes will have delayed service.
During an announcement posted on YouTube, a PARTA team member explained, “the routes that are affected are as follows the 35 interurban east routes, the 40 and 45 suburban lines, the 80 and 85 raven lines.”
“We focused our efforts on reducing service at the lowest impact times and hopefully that will, for the next few months, hopefully, be a temporary solution,” said Amrhein. “We are maintaining all of our essential door-to-door service, which is scheduled in advance, taking people to dialysis, taking people with grocery stores, [and] taking people to their medical appointments.”
Amrhein says she and her team want to thank community riders, while also ask for patience.
“Let everyone regroup and we'll come back and we'll be here for you.”
PARTA is hosting an open interview hiring event on June 29 at its administrative offices at 2000 Summit Road in Kent from 10 a.m. to noon and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. You do not need a CDL license to apply.