BOONE — Route delays and alterations continue as Watauga County’s public transportation authority faces a staffing shortage.
“If I had about five to eight more drivers, things would be stabilized,” AppalCart Director Craig Hughes said. “With 12 to 13 more drivers, I think we could get some kind of consistency for everybody. We may not be able to run everything on our schedule, but we’d be getting close.”
On Nov. 15, AppalCart notified the public via social media that Orange Route would be closed. Orange Route services App State’s College Street Station, East King St, Industrial Park Blvd and Mountaineer Village and is the most commonly impacted by the staffing shortage, Hughes said. However, ridership remains low due to the pandemic, meaning that there is extra space on the Green Route which services a similar area, but runs less frequently.
“I’m looking forward to a day when we don’t have to do that,” Hughes said.
AppalCart, which Hughes said runs comfortably with 85 employees, currently has 67 employees. The transit system first cut back on services at the beginning of 2020.
In September, AppalCart released a video in hopes of recruiting new staff members. The video featured information about the company’s competitive pay, flexible scheduling and hiring process, which includes paid training for what Hughes said is an overwhelming prospect for potential employees: obtaining a Commercial Driver’s License.
When it comes to retaining staff, AppalCart began issuing bonuses to staff who agree to stay through May 2022. Hughes said the agency is in conversation with state departments and other transit authorities about raising pay for all of its employees. Starting pay while training is $10 per hour and increases to $15/hour after drivers obtain a CDL.
“It’s one of those things I think everyone is monitoring right now to make sure that they’re competitive, and so that we can make sure that we are adequately compensating our employees for what they’re doing,” Hughes said. “If our budget will allow it, we’ll definitely try to make it happen.”