ANAHEIM, Calif. — Amongst the job listings for handymen and painters on, the Anaheim Transportation Network has posted a plea: “Ever consider driving a bus? We pay 3,000 to train!”

The job posting, listed in conjunction with the Parking Company of America vendor, is an escalation of a compensation package that has steadily ratcheted up since 2020 in an effort to restore bus driver numbers to what they were pre-pandemic.

What You Need To Know

  • The Anaheim Transportation Network has struggled to recruit new drivers since drivers returned to service after the pandemic began

  • Some retired, and others found jobs in the hot delivery market as services like the U.S. Postal Service, DoorDash and Amazon were in high demand

  • About half of the 135 drivers did not return and the bus system struggled to get new drivers into training

  • Now the city and its vendor, which runs the bus system, pay $2,750 in bonuses delivered over several installments and benchmarks, including graduation

That includes a variety of ads in a variety of places, as pressure to hire has forced the agency to raise wages.

When ATN’s 135 drivers stayed home during the pandemic, about half decided not to return once services restarted. That has limited the routes the city can operate and has frozen plans to expand services to locations like John Wayne Airport or South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. And recouping the lost staff has been a major challenge.

“I think we all in the industry experienced difficulties finding drivers after the pandemic,” said Diana Kotler, executive director of ATN. “I don’t know if it was the great resignation or the great retirement. Maybe a bit of both.”

During the pandemic, demand for delivery services has soared as public bus routes all but ended. In June 2021, a full year into the pandemic, DoorDash reported $1.24 billion in second quarter, earnings, nearly double the quarter before and up 83% year over year. The United States Postal Service and Amazon also saw delivery crunches, elevating the need for drivers.

At one point, Kotler explained, they didn’t even have any drivers in training.

“We couldn’t even recruit people to get them into the classroom,” she said. “There was just a lack of interest in the profession.”

Public bus systems tend to have deeper requirements for drivers, passed down federally from the United States Department of Transportation. Those rules require extensive drug and alcohol testing, even preventing active drivers from marijuana use legal under California law but illegal under federal law.

Kotler said about five out of 10 candidates wash out because of testing or a slew of other factors. While drivers can have a ticket on their record, they cannot have a felony, reckless driving or a DUI. Candidates must be over 21 and be able to pass a background check and regular, random drug tests.

“You’re entrusting someone to be responsible for people’s lives,” Kotler said.

All these factors make recruitment more challenging, forcing the city and its vendor to up the value of the package they’re offering. Before the pandemic, the city used to start drivers in training at $15 an hour, bumping up the pay over certain benchmarks.

But the Orange County Transportation Authority and others have steadily ramped up pay forcing ATN to keep pace.

ATN just revised the pay structure July 1 for the second time since the pandemic began. Now drivers in training start at $18 for cadets, with wages elevating to $22.50 an hour before the employee is eligible for annual 3% increases. Plus, there’s a bonus which is also paid over several benchmarks, including graduation. That bonus is now $2,750, lower than the advertised amount on Craigslist. ATN pays $500 of that bonus to each graduate.

Kotler said they’ve seen recent growth in their bus driving staff and now have about 87. She’d like to get that number to 150, so the city can add the additional lines and adequately maintain service when drivers are resting or on vacation.

She added that they’ll revisit the pay again in six months because compensation may continue to rise.

“I was recently in Portland, Oregon, and I saw a hiring bonus for up to $8,000. It’s gotten really high.”

CORRECTION: The original story was updated to attribute the moves to ATN instead of the city of Anaheim. (Aug. 4, 2022)