Our area feels impact of national bus driver shortage


MASON CITY, Iowa- Thousands of people utilize the Mason City Transit system on a weekly basis. One of the most utilized routes is the West Central. That route takes folks to Mercy Medical Center – North Iowa as well as many of the shopping centers on the west side of town.

“I always take the bus when I don’t have school on Mondays to get to Walmart or go to the hospital so it’s a good resource to have coming out here to Mason City by yourself,” says TaShay Williams of Chicago Illinois.

Williams moved to Mason City to attend La James College and Beauty School. Being from out of town, she relies on the bus to get around.

Over the last few weeks absent bus drivers made for a shortage on the West Central route, forcing city leaders to make changes.

“Transit is really important in Mason City and many people take the bus to Central Park to use that route,” says Pat Otto, the Neighborhood Services and Transit Manager. “Rather than pull someone off one of the other routes that only has the one bus every half hour, we have to take one off of the West Central bus and put them on a different route.”

Though it only happened four times this year, there is still a full-time bus driver position open and Mason City isn’t alone. A bus route from Charles City to Mason City has been suspended until they can find a driver to fill the route. Another driver in Lake Mills is retiring, leaving an opening there as well.

Those who manage the transit system for much of our area say a change made in 2015 to force driver to earn a Commercial Drivers License is partly to blame.

“The test for our type of vehicle used to take 20 to 30 minutes now it takes about 2.5 to 3 hours,” says Kevin Kramer, Transit Manager. “We can only do 2 to 3 tests a day and it takes 2-3 weeks to schedule. It just takes longer to get in and get tested. If you don’t pass the first time, you have to wait 2 to 3 weeks to go in and retest.”

But that shortage is taking it’s toll on folks like Williams who relay on the transit system.

“I don’t have a lot of family members out here,” she says. “I mean I live in the dorms, but I don’t have a lot of transportation out here.”

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