Ozark Regional Transit looks to increase the pay of its drivers and technicians in 2018 but needs about $500,000 in order to boost pay to the level needed to remain competitive.
The Springdale-based transit provider offers lower pay than other transit providers in the region, but it trains its prospective drivers to earn their class B commercial driver’s license. “That’s one attractor we have,” said Joel Gardner, ORT executive director.
The issue with training its drivers is driver turnover because after three to nine months on the job, some go on to earn $5 more per hour driving gravel trucks or buses for another transit provider. “In the situation we are in we cannot afford to be competitive,” Gardner said. “Razorback (Transit) just raised their rates. They were below us.” ORT starts its drivers at $10.50 per hour, while Razorback increased its pay rate to $14 per hour.
“It’s cleaning house,” he said. “I can’t compete with the charter guys. I can’t compete with the school buses.” ORT also struggles to compete with transit providers as far as Fort Smith and Jonesboro, with construction, or over-the-road trucking companies.
To remain competitive, ORT would need to increase driver and technician pay by $3 per hour, Gardner said. A driver shortage had led ORT drivers to operate double shifts “multiple times a week,” increasing the transit provider’s overtime pay expenses. If ORT were to hire more drivers, the higher salary expenses might be a solution to offset the higher overtime expenses.
Gardner explained that during the Great Recession as people were being laid off, the number of applicants for open driver positions far exceeded the number of openings available. “We would cull between hundreds of applicants to get it down to 40 to get it down to six or so that we needed,” he said. “And we were getting the cream of the crop at that point.” When the economy improves, the number of available drivers for transit providers declines “because they move onto bigger and better things, and I don’t blame them at all.”
Gardner expects to present information on the pay increase to ORT board members on Thursday (Nov. 30).