Driver Shortage, Fuel Prices Plague OATS Bus Service
A driver shortage is plaguing the OATS bus service here in Pettis County, according to director Tracy Walkup.
Walkup gave one of four presentations made Monday night at the Sedalia City Council meeting, 2nd and Osage.
OATS was asked to present to Council as part of the City's strategic planning process, which helps determine budget priorities in early 2024.
OATS is an outside contractor that provides transit services to the community. The City helps offset the cost of that with $25,000 in funding every year.
Ridership at OATS is almost back to pre-COVID levels, she told Council members.
However, many drivers who used to work for OATS have retired, leaving Walkup to scramble for new drivers.
She said that the current wage for OATS bus drivers is $14 an hour for those with a chauffeur's license and $15 an hour for those with a CDL license.
“We will work with your schedule,” Walkup said of any prospective new drivers, adding that some drivers only work one or two days a week, while others work more. She noted that the driver shortage is a nationwide problem for OATS.
Walkup provided Council with some figures that show what the previous fiscal year looked like in Pettis County for OATS. There were:
*150,214 trips that originated out of Pettis County
*a total of 510,729 miles were driven
*a total of 27,740 hours of service
*$433,400 in direct payroll dollars paid out
In addition to a driver shortage, Walkup is dealing with supply chain issues as well.
There is a definite lag time when ordering parts for the buses. And the last time OATS received a new bus was in 2019. There is a need for new buses, Walkup stressed. But, she said, there are some new buses “on the horizon.”
Fuel prices continue to be the second-highest operating cost for OATS. Walkup thanked City officials for allowing OATS to use the City's fuel depot, through a cooperative purchase agreement.
As a company, OATS ended the year $750,000 over budget. Locally, that figure translated to $100,000.
OATS continues to suffer multiple catalytic convertor thefts at their headquarters, located in the 100 block of West Pacific, next to the Amtrak depot.
As a result of the financial woes, OATS has been forced to reduce services, with fewer Medicaid trips and condensing two City routes into one, requiring one less driver.
Walkup concluded her presentation by thanking the Council for its relationship with OATS since the 80s.
In the top photo: OATS Director Tracy Walkup address Sedalia City Council on Monday night. In the middle photo: An OATS bus travels west on West Main Street Wednesday morning.