Driver Shortage Forces COAST to Suspend Some Service
Faced with a shortage of qualified drivers, COAST is making service cuts including the elimination of all Saturday services.
Starting Saturday, May 21, service on all Saturday fixed routes, ADA Paratransit, and other demand response services will be suspended.
Other changes in COAST service include:
- Routes 1/33 (Dover/Somersworth/Berwick) - will be operated as through routes (interlined) throughout the weekday on a 2-hour service frequency (headway)
- Route 34 (Dover) - the 7:30 p.m. outbound run will be suspended.
- Routes 40/43 (Portsmouth/Newington) - will be operated as through routes (interlined) throughout the weekday vs. just in the afternoon/evening as they are now. This will result in a 2-hour service frequency (headway) throughout the day.
- Route 7 On Demand (Newmarket/Stratham/Exeter) - service provided on Saturdays will be moved to Tuesdays, so that the overall level of service is maintained.
"We unfortunately lost a number of staff in close proximity to each other, and had to make changes," COAST Executive Director Rad Nichols told Seacoast Current. "We simply ran out of staff to run the service we scheduled."
Although none of the service cuts are easy, Nichols said he is keenly aware of the impact of the suspension of all Saturday service.
"A number of our riders will be just as likely to be working on Saturday as they might be during the week. For folks who aren't working on Saturday, that's their day to get out and do the other things that they need to do and use the bus."
Nichols said he needs six CDL drivers to restore service to where it is today, and ten to full service. Becoming a CDL driver, however is not that easy. During the pandemic, many bus-driving schools closed down around the country, slowing down the pipeline of new drivers looking for jobs.
"There's only one school in the entire state. They're up in Concord. They do a good job, but they're limited in their capacity," Nichols said. "During the winter, new rules were put into effect relative to the training requirements for getting your commercial license that has complicated things."
At the other end of the spectrum is the fact that many drivers tend to be older and baby boomers are aging out of the workforce.
"We've been increasing our pay rate pretty dramatically during the past couple of years, and I expect we'll have to keep on top of staying competitive as we go forward. We're got competitive wages, a great benefits package if we can get folks interested in the opportunity," Nichols said.