Thought Leadership

Transit Staffing Shortages and the On-Demand Solution

Jess Blenkarn
November 26, 2021
 - 
3 min read

The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted workforces across many essential industries, including public transportation. With North Americans working from home and remaining hesitant to return to their normal routines, transit ridership has dropped to record lows.

Low ridership can mean overall budget cuts, resulting in reductions in transportation staff’s incomes, or even staff layoffs. This, combined with safety concerns from drivers, has created staffing shortages across the industry. St. Louis Metro, for example, needs 170 workers to make up for their COVID-19 labor shortage.

“On the weekend, there’s a 50–50 chance you might be at a bus stop for a couple of hours.”

- Terrance Willingham, resident of St. Louis, Missouri

Between March and April 2020 alone, transit and ground passenger transportation lost more than 185,000 drivers, causing significant cuts to bus routes. In Gainsville, Florida, 17 routes were cut back, delaying arrival times as much as 15–35 minutes. Further north, the Cooperative Alliance for Seacoast Transit in New Hampshire is short at least 25% of the workforce needed to service its routes and without them, the agency will have to cancel certain routes soon as well.

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City has seen the effects of a dispatcher shortage with only 78% of calls answered in June, resulting in paratransit passenger requests that are frequently denied.

With fewer staff available to keep operations running smoothly, it is more important than ever to consider how technology can be used to mitigate this challenge. Thus, transportation agencies should look to on-demand transit as the much-needed solution.

On-Demand Technology Mitigates Staff Shortages and Attracts New Workers

At RideCo, we have developed the Dynamic Driver Breaks feature which autonomously schedules driver breaks during the most optimal time based on constantly changing rider requests and itineraries. Dynamic Driver Breaks can be configured to align with fluctuations in workforce numbers, as well as union rules.


With this feature, agencies can use their limited number of drivers efficiently while reducing their reliance on dispatching staff who previously had to manually schedule and then re-schedule driver breaks. Dispatchers can instead focus on other tasks and leave the scheduling to RideCo’s industry-leading technology.

Technology integration is crucial for any industry, like public transportation, looking to attract new workers for positions that have gone unfilled due to COVID-19. Employees with access to technology have reported being much more efficient and engaged, with 41% less absenteeism and 17% more productivity.

On-Demand Technology Reduces Reliance on Dispatching Staff

Despite launching in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Houston METRO both modernized and improved operations by replacing its legacy dial-a-ride software with on-demand technology. Engaging RideCo to design and operate an autonomous transit solution decreased its reliance on dispatching staff and reduced call center bookings by 66%.

Houston Metro reduced their reliance on call-center bookings while increasing overall bookings by 19%.


Passengers were previously required to contact the call center at least 60 minutes in advance, where METRO dispatchers would manually book and schedule their trips. This method proved to be an inefficient allocation of limited staff that also impacted the agency’s ability to provide dynamic and responsive routing. With RideCo, automated dispatching has allowed the agency to shift dispatchers where needed, while delivering real-time routing optimization that reduced cost per passenger by 21%.

On-demand technology helps agencies like Houston METRO autonomize tasks and processes during the ongoing transit staffing shortage. As this trend continues, it is important for agencies to implement solutions that will mitigate challenges both mid- and post-pandemic. Contact us today to learn more about how RideCo can make an important difference at your agency.

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