Seattle Area Buses Suffer From Supply Chain Issues, Staff Shortages

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The global supply chain crisis and staffing shortages is beginning to hit Seattle area public transit, as buses in need of repair are piling up at their depots, The Seattle Times has reported.

King County Metro is the public transit authority of King County, Washington, which includes the city of Seattle, and is the eighth-largest transit bus agency in the United States.

A months-long supply shortage caused by delays in manufacturing and shipping have left more buses in need of parts that the county lacks.

Finding enough skilled mechanics to repair the buses when the parts do arrive also remains a problem.

About 7 percent of the bus fleet is normally sidelined for repairs. Outside of routine maintenance, such as cleaning and oil changes, the number has crept up to 11 percent, or about 160 buses.

Some buses have been on the sidelines since August.

Missing parts, such as hoses and belts, and the components needed for storing energy in the fleet’s hybrid electric engines are increasingly hard to come by.

Though the rising number of number of idle buses has not yet led to any canceled routes, the local transit authority is grappling with depressed ridership and driver shortages due to the CCP virus.

Metro increased its service in October, restoring 36 lines paused during the pandemic, but overall ridership remains at just 40 percent of what it was in 2019.

The bus service said that it “continues to experience workforce shortages that are affecting our ability to deliver service.”

Certain routes are more affected than others, and as of last January, 3.5 percent of buses based in Bellevue were out for repairs, while nearly 18 percent of buses at the Ryerson base near the stadiums and just under 17 percent of buses at the south base were in need of maintenance.

“We are closely monitoring the situation and regularly reassess whether it is possible to restore canceled bus trips,” Metro said.

King County Metro has ordered their staff to turn to their attention to responding, as a recent snowstorm had caused the backlog to grow.

To keep as many buses on the road as possible, the bus service said they are finding ways to change how they conduct repairs and orders.

The vendors who would normally source the parts from manufacturers to bus agencies have been unable to maintain the flow of needed material.

The public bus service has altered its acquisition methods, testing new products and ordering as many as possible in response.

Other parts of Washington State are responding similarly to the parts shortage.

Bus services in Snohomish County are struggling to find hoses, belts, and anything with a microchip, and are stockpiling parts to avoid any service cuts.

Pierce County is conducting makeshift ad hoc operations to put together transmissions and alternators in-house rather than depend on outside vendors.

Local bus agencies are coordinating their efforts with their neighbors, trading parts when needed.

Metro is cannibalizing buses by stripping parts out of one bus for use in several others, to stretch out the use of rare parts.

The King County bus service is also modifying its personnel policy by elevating lower skilled employees to conduct simple tasks, such as changing lights and wipers, to allow more skilled mechanics to tackle bigger projects.

Staffing concerns were already becoming a problem before the pandemic, as technical schools have not been providing enough trained individuals to replace those retiring.

The pandemic accelerated the process, with more workers retiring early, while others left following the implementation of the vaccine mandate.

Metro’s 258-member vehicle maintenance staff is currently down 33 employees from what is normally its full complement.

A return to full bus service will continue to be slowed by the shortage of both drivers and mechanics, the Metropolitan King County Council was told last week, local media reported.

Metro bus leadership told council members that servicees in March will not be significantly increased as had been previously planned.

Bryan Jung

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Bryan S. Jung is a native and resident of New York City with a background in politics and the legal industry. He graduated from Binghamton University.



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