Bus service JAUNT expects to get money from Charlottesville and Albemarle County for the coming fiscal year to help pay for raises for its drivers.
JAUNT Executive Director Brad Sheffield said the pay increase will help the organization maintain its level of service and recruit high-quality drivers. The community as a whole is due a discussion on driver pay, and not just at JAUNT, he said.
“This is not just JAUNT or [Charlottesville Area Transit], it’s also the school bus systems. The county and the city are having issues of recruitment. Recruiting bus drivers is a national issue,” Sheffield said.
JAUNT buses have commuter routes, and the service operates the area’s paratransit service for CAT under a contract with the city.
The service is owned jointly by and provides service to Albemarle, Fluvanna, Louisa, Nelson and Buckingham counties and the city of Charlottesville.
Albemarle County Executive Jeff Richardson recommended about $142,000 be put toward the raises in his proposed budget for fiscal year 2019.
City Manager Maurice Jones’ budget proposal omitted a $105,000 request from JAUNT for the raises.
“In taking into account the equity of current pay rates of city drivers at Charlottesville Area Transit and Pupil Transportation, the city is not funding the request at this time,” the city’s budget proposal said.
JAUNT’s minimum wage currently is $13 an hour, and its median wage is $14.89 an hour for full-time drivers. JAUNT is hoping to raise the median to $16.43, Sheffield said.
At a meeting of the Regional Transit Partnership last week, the group touched on bus driver pay during a discussion of JAUNT and CAT’s budgets.
Sheffield, a former Albemarle County supervisor, said JAUNT needs clarification from the city about the funding for wage increases.
“We are at an impasse to where we need to know where that’s headed for us to better understand ... how it impacts us financially,” he said.
At a recent budget work session, supervisors expressed concern that the city has proposed raises for CAT drivers but not for JAUNT drivers.
The city manager’s proposed budget will be formally presented to the City Council on Monday. The councilors will hold a budget work session Wednesday.
Councilor Kathy Galvin said she is trying to understand how city residents are affected by JAUNT.
“At this point, as the city representative, I want to make sure I understand how JAUNT really fits into the regional transportation network for the benefit of the city constituents, as well as the county constituents,” she said. “Once I understand that, I will be a major advocate, but right now I want to have a better understanding of how you fit as a puzzle piece to this regional picture that makes everybody’s life function better with public transit.”
“It’s not been articulated as clearly as we’re getting at, that’s all I’m saying,” she said. “I think people in the city understand ... CAT’s value in the city because it’s in your face all the time.”
She said Albemarle already understands JAUNT’s value very well.
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said she has been moved by stories from people who are unable to drive and rely on JAUNT to get to work.
“I think the value is not something that’s easy to put a dollar on, but as far as the quality of life that it allows, it’s remarkable,” she said.
Sheffield said JAUNT’s main focus in Charlottesville is serving the needs of those with disabilities.
“We serve more people of the [Americans with Disabilities Act] nature in the city than we do in the county, and then doing that extra aspect of trying to get them into the rural areas because there isn’t a fixed route to do that,” he said.
The proposed starting hourly rate for CAT drivers is $16.11 in the proposed FY19 budget, said city transit Director John Jones, but he did not know what the median rate would be.
Members of the Regional Transit Partnership agreed that benefit packages also need to be considered in future discussions of wages.