The contracted operations model has been a big part of public transit for as long as I can remember. With dozens of qualified transportation management companies worldwide, it’s easy to see how public transit agencies can find value in contracting services out to a specialist.
I can too.
As humans, we tend to contract the majority of our tasks out whether we realize it or not. Lawn care, daycare, and auto maintenance, just to name a few.
Could we do these tasks?
Could we learn via youtube how to fix our own HVAC system, absolutely?
But is it worth going through all of the trouble? Probably not, and this is where contracting comes in.
For those who aren’t familiar with how contracting applies to transportation here’s a quick run-through on how it works in the simplest steps .
- A Company or Government Agency puts out an RFP for transportation management. This a hiring ad for businesses.
- A contractor will place a bid via a business proposal.
- The Company or Agency will search through the bids and select whom they deem the most qualified contractor to provide the service they are requesting based upon a system of pre-established priorities.
- The winner will run the transportation system providing things like drivers, management, and maintenance under the direct supervision of the agency (now client) that selected them.
As sustainable and scalable as this model is, there is one problem that’s been an elephant in the room for decades now that may come as a surprise to some.
Drivers don’t want to work for contractors
While this may come as a shock to the suit and tie folk, this has been a “thing” for drivers since my career started back in 2010. But why? Why don’t bus drivers like working for contractors? In this article, as someone who’s worked for 2 of the nation’s largest contractors, I’ll share why. Without using the money argument.
We’re expendable to you, and we know it.
The reality is contractors are hired guns. They arrive, provide a solution, get paid, and leave. As drivers, we’re only here to help you accomplish YOUR business goals. There is little to no investment in us, little to no investment in our goals, little to no investment in our lives and families.
Most times there isn’t even an investment in a truly livable wage.
From the time you work for a contractor, it’s clear from the very beginning, their obligation is to their client and their client alone. You are not a partner, you are not a teammate, you are a number in the machine that will be replaced at the first sign of panic.
When I started Supir, I didn’t know how to write a proposal and couldn’t afford to pay someone to write one for me, so I learned by studying others. I would request winning bids to get an idea of what they looked like and how they worked. In that, I discovered that drivers and even road supervisors were never really included in anything. I would read great bio’s about this general manager, that safety director, and a bunch of other executive positions that don’t happen at all without the bus drivers.
While this information may not be common knowledge in our assembly rooms, you can defiantly feel this “separation” while working for a contractor.
There’s no relationship, trust, loyalty, or team.
We’re not really a part of the company
Though the hiring ads “suggest” otherwise.
The reality is, when the contract goes, my job as a driver is up for grabs. The GM will be sent elsewhere as will the safety manager and anyone else who was placed in the initial proposal.
This is because we are not really a part of the contracting company, rather a means to an end for them.
They need us to make them money. That’s it.
Contractors make money by billing for services rendered.
The majority of the mark up’s come from the deepest rotation of hourly employees.
Working for a contractor as a bus operator is “not a career” though it may be advertised as such. The reality is most drivers will not be the anomaly that works through the ranks for 30 years and retire.
Most will leave or be terminated.
This is because most of these models are built considering high turnover, it’s why it always seems like contractors are always hiring, It’s why as a driver you feel like you can be fired so easily.
The general consensus amongst drivers is that contractors are here to babysit us, until it’s contractually someone else’s duty.
You have a bad reputation within the driving community
The same exact reason a firm was awarded a contract will be the same reason they won’t be able to secure enough drivers to fulfill it.
Credibility and reputation.
The United States is currently short 67,000 commercial drivers, with that number expected to grow to nearly 400,000 by 2026. This is because our industry does not grow talent as fast as it needs to.
This results in most drivers having worked for one or a few contractors at some point in their career, and with no new talent to make a new impression on, contractors will find themselves recycling talent that may already have an opinion and low expectation.
Word of mouth is still one of the best ways to spread a message, good news travels fast, bad news travels faster.
Transportation contractors do not have a good reputation within the driver community due to the way they’ve treated them, and drivers shared this with other drivers.
Because of this drivers will not go to bat or even show legit interest in working for a contractor long term.
In our communities, contractors are not a credible place to work for most. Rather a quick buck or transitional job.
If you go to any typical hiring site and read the reviews on various contractors you’ll see one common gripe from drivers.
Management and Culture.
Transportation contractors show drivers that they are viewed as a threat to the deal, not as a partner. This causes management to treat drivers terribly.
Everything is a safety issue, everything is an attendance issue, everything except 100% compliance will be a problem.
This is made most evident in training when you’re forced to sign and agree to paperwork that most professionals would deem elementary.
Imagine training a 10-year tenured dentist on how to brush teeth, See how that sounds?
With all due respect, I am a professional bus operator, I do not need to sign a contract saying I know how to stop at a stop sign.
The reality is most drivers know that these policies are about one thing.
Training and management will treat you like an absolute moron who needs to be broken down and built back up in their image because apparently, any training or experience you received prior, is nowhere near their standard.
You’re protecting yourself and drivers know it.
The #1 rule of business and partnerships (what is model should consist be is trust and it’s non-existent in the contractor model.
You don’t trust me, I don’t trust you.
You use your paperwork against me, I use my paperwork against you.
This is where your high turnover comes from, this is where disgruntled employees come from. This is where absenteeism comes from. This is where FMLA abuse comes from. This is where bad management and culture come from.
Until contractors begin to treat operators like business partners whom they need to pull a deal together, rather than a liability to it, I don’t foresee the shortage of drivers changing anytime soon.