WORCESTER, Mass. - A union representing drivers with the Worcester Regional Transit Authority is taking their frustrations over staffing levels and scheduling to the picket line.

What You Need To Know

  • The union representing WRTA drivers is calling for upgrades to pay, safety and staffing

  • Drivers picketed outside the WRTA offices on Monday, and plan to do so again next Tuesday

  • The WRTA's new administrator, in his second week on the job, said operator numbers are a priority

  • Passengers said delays can be difficult, particularly far from home

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 22 feels its drivers with the WRTA have been fighting a war of attrition since the end of the pandemic. Tight schedules, low staffing and an increasingly hostile work environment have them feeling exhausted, according to Ken Kephart, the union’s business agent and financial secretary.

“They're tired, they're late, they're speeding, they're not necessarily doing what they would do on a regular day because there's so much pressure put on them to maintain that schedule and to be there for the passengers,” Kephart said. “We’ve seen a lot of people leaving, we've never seen people leaving like like we do now. And a lot of it has to do with them being overworked.”

Kephart said frustrated passengers often take it out on the drivers themselves, and safety has become a major issue, especially with more passengers taking advantage of free fares.

“We’ve had one major assault, we've had some minor assaults,” Kephart said. “Most of the time, we're dealing with passengers who are taking it out on the bus. Punching and breaking the windows of the bus. We had a lot of a lot of that. But eventually, it's going to it's going to increase, and things are going to get more severe if we don't sit down and acknowledge what we have and fix it.”

Kephart said the shortages have been particularly difficult for disabled passengers, and the union is hopeful a recent change in leadership at the WRTA could result in more productive conversations. WRTA administrator Joshua Rickman started on the job two weeks ago.

“Part of what I'm trying to do is understand the concerns of operators, but also engage with our member communities, beginning to meet with town managers and board members, understand what the needs of the region are,” Rickman said. “And in regards to the operator numbers, that's something that I'm looking into as a priority here in month one.”

Riders, meanwhile, have certainly noticed delays out on the road. Some have grown tired of waiting around all the time, while others are just happy to have free transportation.

“It’s not just them being late, it's them just never showing up when you're away from home,” one passenger who declined to give her name said. “And several times, I've had to call a taxi or a Lyft. I mean, you count on them and they just aren't there.”

“I think they’re a great asset to the city, they have free fare which keeps the economy going out here,” said frequent passenger Justin Stewart. “If things happen and they do run late, that’s life, you know what I mean?”

The union plans to hold another picket on Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. outside the WRTA headquarters.