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November 26, 2022

METRO offers employment incentives to address staffing ‘crisis’

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY—The Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District (METRO) has introduced a number of new incentives aimed at attracting qualified bus operators to address an “unprecedented crisis in staffing levels” in public transportation.

Thanks to a recent contract extension between METRO and the three unions representing the agency, new operators will have a starting salary of $23.75, versus the previous rate of $19.97—or the “trainee rate” that was put on pause via a pilot program

Additionally, METRO will continue to offer a 5% yearly salary increase for the next six years.

The incentives are available to new hires through July 13. Previous driving experience is not required, as METRO will provide all training in-house. 

“We are living in a time when public transportation is facing an unprecedented crisis in staffing levels,” said Brandon Freeman of SMART Local 0023, the union representing the bus operators. “All through the state, agencies are finding themselves short on people and becoming increasingly more overtime reliant. Here in Santa Cruz, under the direction of our new CEO, Michael Tree, SMART Local 0023 and HR Director, Dawn Crummié, have been empowered to implement new and creative solutions to attract new operators.”

Over the past few recruitment cycles, METRO has received an underwhelming number of applicants and is trying to backfill vacant operator positions so that it can maintain its current service levels with minimal impact on riders.

Crummié said in a press release that METRO is facing the same challenges recruiting operators as their sister agencies.

“We are striving to create new ideas to recruit and retain talent,” Crummié said. “One such idea is a pilot program that temporarily eliminates our Step 1 training wage so that new operator’s salaries start 5% higher.”

Additionally, in lieu of negotiating the SMART Local 0023 contract this year, METRO has agreed with the union on a one-year increase of 3.5%. 

“This, along with temporarily eliminating the training wage, has increased the starting wage in total by 8.5%,” Crummié said.

METRO is also offering a $4,000 hiring bonus to all new operators that will be paid out in three installments—$500 after completing training, $1,500 after completing probation and $2,000 one year after completing probation.

In addition, METRO has implemented an Employee Referral Incentive Program. Current employees who refer an operator candidate to the position will be paid $2,000 over a two-year period.

The agency is hoping that these new incentives will be the key to attracting more talent.

“By offering a higher starting wage, industry-leading benefits and rich incentives such as a $4,000 hiring bonus, every effort is being made to bring on new operators,” Freeman said. “A new referral program is the latest step in turning all current staff into recruitment agents and I think this really shows the commitment we have at METRO and within SMART Local 0023 to our community. We understand how critical public transportation is to our county and we are taking every possible step to maintain the highest levels of service possible.”

METRO’s current Bus Operator recruitment runs through July 13. Visit for information and to apply. For information on METRO visit

Staff Report
A staff member edited this provided article.


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