KANSAS CITY, Mo. — KCATA bus operators rallied for higher pay and safer working conditions Monday. They say a driver shortage is forcing them to work long hours and putting them and passengers in danger.

Wendell Ferguson said it was different operating a KCATA bus before the pandemic and the free fares, which have continued. Now he describes the average day on the bus as “chaos.”

Ferguson said from the time he hits the road at 4 a.m. to take people to work throughout what can be a 19- hour work day, passengers change.

“We’re riding people around to the liquor store all day, to the drug house all day, the mentally ill. The way I feel it’s a mobile psychiatric center,” Ferguson said.

He said he’s had his life threatened, his window kicked in, all for starting pay of $17.85 an hour. He said rider’s frustrations may stem from routes that go unfilled.

“We pull up and the people are like ‘You are two hours late,’ and they are cussing you out and going off. And all I can is explain to them is, ‘Ma’am my paper work says I’m on time,'” he said.

The union representing KCATA’s operators said they are down about 100 bus operators right now, or about 25%.

“You’re asking people to do more, 16-18 hour days, which is causing fatigue with our operators. We have to do it in case of emergency, but when every day is an emergency, that’s a hard feat for people to do every day,” Amalgamated Transit Union President William Howard said.

“Two weeks ago I was scheduled to work 19 hours two days in the week, and I had to tell them both days I’m not going to be able to do it. You aren’t going to run me into an early grave,” Ferguson said.

Howard said he’s aware of at least 10 assaults on drivers the past couple months.

“No one wants to come to work and get hit in the face. You are here to take care of your family you are here to serve the community, you want your working conditions to be safe,” Howard said.

They are asking KCATA for more transit officers than the two KCPD officers they currently have and to revisit their contract and wages in hopes of hiring and retaining more bus operators. Some of which Ferguson says are leaving for other departments.

“The mental stress that’s going on I can understand why a lot of the drivers are preferring to wash the bus then get out here now,” Ferguson said.

A KCATA spokesperson didn’t respond to FOX4’s request for comment Monday. KCATA’s website says they are hiring drivers with no experience required, and the agency will pay for your training to get a commercial driver’s license.

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