Roundtable discussion focuses on vehicle shortage challenges and possible solutions

Representatives from community transportation agencies and programs throughout Minnesota shared their concerns about growing vehicle shortages, the impacts on transit and other services, and potential solutions at a peer roundtable workshop in December. This was the first of series of monthly Peer Roundtables organized by the Minnesota Rural Transit Assistance Program, also known as RTAP.

female bus mechanic
Source: Metro Transit

Workshop participants discussed several challenges that ongoing vehicle shortages pose, particularly that vehicle and driver shortages make it difficult to continue providing service at current levels. In some cases, vehicles that need repair cannot quickly return to the road because of delays in part availability and part delivery, a contributing factor to scheduling and service issues.

Increases in labor repair and part costs to keep older and high-mileage vehicles on the road also add pressure to budgets. Uncertainty that surrounds the availability of new and replacement buses and the questionable lifespan of high-mileage vehicles make it difficult to plan for future service.

In addition, driver and vehicle shortages both are both contributing to delays in adding routes and services. Some agencies report both types of shortages as obstacles for the growth necessary to meet transportation gaps in the community.

For insights on meeting the challenges, participants shared some of their strategies. One approach involves maximizing the use of all vehicles, including spare vehicles and older or high-mileage vehicles. The older or high-mileage vehicles, though, often require more frequent repairs that lead to more downtime.

Other participants talked about incorporating as much flexibility as possible within their vehicle fleet, such as such as scheduling non-accessible vehicles to provide paratransit service for ambulatory customers and meeting the needs of those who use wheelchairs with accessible buses. Another agency was able to take parts from a bus they use for food delivery to fix their transit buses.

Collaboration among agencies and new partnerships also are helping. A parts vendor connected a larger agency to a smaller agency because the larger agency had the part in its inventory that the smaller agency requested from the vendor. As a result, the smaller agency received the part more quickly.

Other agencies are turning to businesses for assistance. For example, one agency worked with a rental company to obtain 15 passenger vehicles and minivans, as well as with a vehicle broker to look for lightly used passenger buses. And with assistance from MnDOT, another agency was able to procure an accessible minivan.

Participants agreed there are no easy solutions, but also saw value in gathering and sharing data about vehicle shortages and their impacts. They viewed short- term leasing or vehicle sharing with community organizations — such as assisted living facilities — that may have underused vehicles as potential options. Participants also noted that improved ways to find information about potential vehicle availability would be helpful.

The Rural Transit Assistance Program, which is funded by the Federal Transit Administration, offers training, workshops, and conferences for transit staff and managers to share best practices and explore solutions to key issues. To learn more and register for the monthly RTAP Peer Roundtables, visit the RTAP website.