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Bus drivers wanted: Kitsap Transit dealing with shortage

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BREMERTON, WASH --- Kitsap Transit is dealing with a bus driver shortage and that could mean cuts to routes a lot of people rely on to get around.

The agency is now working to find ways to hire more drivers.

Training to be a bus driver for Kitsap Transit isn’t easy and requires a lot of classroom work as well as learning how to drive a 35-foot bus.

“If you would have told me six months ago that I would be doing this, I would have said you were crazy,” said Casey Cooley, who is learning to be a driver for Kitsap Transit.

Just six months ago, Cooley was working as an IT project manager at a tech company in Seattle.

“I’ve been in software project management for the last 20 years and it is a little stressful and I was ready for something new,” added Cooley.

In March, Cooley decided to make a change and got behind the wheel of a whole new career.

“I think this is going to be a fun, new adventure for me,” said Cooley. “It’s been a lot of work and there’s a lot to learn.”

Cooley is days away from taking her commercial driver’s license test and if she passes, she has the potential be help fill a void.

“We’re continuing to have a shortage of operators,” said John Clauson, executive director of Kitsap Transit.

A lack of operators means that when drivers go on vacation or are out sick, it impacts bus routes.

“We’ve had to shut some buses down, which means some of our other routes will have to pick up more people. The buses are getting crowded and buses are taking a little bit longer because they have to stop more frequently,” said Clauson.

Kitsap Transit has already hired about 13 new drivers this year and they say more is needed, but getting people behind the wheel isn’t easy.

“We’re competing with a strong economy. We’re competing locally here with the Puget Sound Shipyard, which has been recruiting people on a regular basis,” added Clauson.

Drivers in training, like Cooley, get paid while they train and once they hit the road, they can earn as much as $19.50 an hour plus benefits.

“They also have some great opportunity here as well. There’s potential for growth outside of behind the wheel,” added Cooley.

Kitsap Transit is hoping to get the drivers that have been training for the past 8 weeks on the road, on their own, by the end of July.