GH Transit wants to boost service, but is in need of drivers

Grays Harbor Transit is trying to restore weekend service this summer, but one of its biggest obstacles is finding drivers. The transit is hiring for multiple positions. New drivers can earn more than $24 an hour and new employees with no experience could earn $18 an hour to train for six to eight weeks. Details are listed on the organization’s website at

Typically, the union-backed driver positions require a commercial driver’s license (CDL) with additional endorsements just to apply. General Manager Ken Mehin said that, right now, they are accepting people 21 or older with a clean driving record (for the past five years) that are willing to train for that license.

“The class takes a while if they don’t have a CDL,” explained Operations Manager Teri Gardner. “Even if they have a CDL there’s still training that they have to go through,” Gardner said that they’ve been training new drivers and are still challenged to meet the need.

The training process for a new employee takes more than six weeks and ends with the new driver testing for a CDL and the required endorsements. Gardner said those classes can start with 20 drivers but end with only five employees. It is a rigorous process, but rightly so. At nearly 40-foot long, the transit buses are no small object in traffic or to the pedestrians that they transport.

Not only do they need to hire entry-level drivers, but when they open up new services they offer those positions to current employees, which could mean needing to fill other openings.

The board is even considering hiring bonuses to entice potential drivers. Elma mayor, and board member, Jim Sorensen asked at the meeting, “What about offering bonuses for signing on?” Board chairwoman and County Commissioner Vickie Raines expressed concerns over the union contracts.

“That would be something that we’d want to speak to our labor law attorney about, but certainly an option if it’s available to us,” she said.

It’s not just a local issue, either. Transit services were curtailed during the pandemic at agencies across the country.

“Every transit is experiencing this,” Gardner told the board at their meeting. “I don’t believe Intercity Transit has restored their service to Tacoma. They’re still trying to hire enough employees to get their service going again.” Intercity Transit is the neighboring public transportation agency in Thurston County.

Funded by taxes and fares

Grays Harbor Transit is a taxing authority that funds the bus service mostly through retail sales tax and, to a lesser extent, other revenues such as rider fares, state and local grant funding, advertising and other miscellaneous revenues. The board is made up of all three county commissioners and a rotation of mayors — currently mayors of Aberdeen, Ocean Shores and Elma.

Weekend service relies on staffing

The weekend service was shelved over low ridership numbers last spring. Some drivers were laid off, while others were pushed to the “B board,” which backs up the drivers that call in sick or take vacation. Administrators at their regular meeting this week discussed how quickly they could ramp up the weekend service again, in part because local employers are asking for the stability.

“We’re hoping to have it early in July, but that all depends on the people that we hire — if they stay with us,” Mehin told the board. “If you start early in July, it won’t be a full service. It will be enough to have some type of service on weekends.”

Many cities have asked the transit board to restart weekend service, “especially in the beach areas where we have a number of industries, hospitality and restaurants that rely on employees that can get to and from their place of employment,” said Raines.

Scrambling to find drivers, administrators reached out to local school districts to see if any of their licensed school bus drivers were interested in working this summer. Gardner said it seemed that most preferred to take their summers off, however, they have not contacted everyone yet. The board directed staff to reach out to all districts in the county in hopes of finding eligible drivers.

When they discussed returning the service at their last meeting, it was estimated the transit would need to hire 14 people for various positions to cover the weekend staffing needs.

At first, administrators were looking at September, then potentially July 1 for restoration of services. Raines said they’ve been hoping to see ridership bounce back.

“One of the things kind of holding us back was waiting to see the ridership go up to about 50% of what it had been. We’re not quite there yet but I think it’s worth the discussion,” she said.

Raines later said that the biggest issue at the moment is filling jobs.

“We can still move ahead with the lower ridership if that’s what the board wants to do to get weekend service back online. But we have to have qualified, trained drivers.”