Before the pandemic, Oats Transit had nearly 750 employees, but now they are down to around 560.

COLUMBIA − One local transportation service is experiencing driver shortages.

OATS Transit is a specialized transportation service that primarily serves rural and urban areas. OATS provides rides to individuals with developmental disabilities, senior citizens and those who use wheelchairs.

OATS is currently experiencing a driver shortage. Before the pandemic, OATS Transit had nearly 750 employees, but now they are down to around 560.

Administrative and Development Director for OATS Incorporated Jill Stedem said services are picking back up.

“We are getting a lot of requests from agencies asking us to fulfill services for them by providing transportation, but unfortunately because of our driving shortages we are unable to," Stedem said.

When there are not enough drivers, OATS has to suspend non-essential routes. These routes may include employment and shopping transportation, among others. 

“Unfortunately we are faced with making the decisions on what we consider is essential, and we have a number of contracts that we are bound to fulfill," Stedem said.

With the recent driver shortage, OATS focuses on emergency services, such as transportation for medical care. 

Because OATS is a nonprofit organization, they have difficulty hiring people.

“A number of the large corporations are able to hire more people and higher wages, better benefits, more perks," Stedem explained. "Unfortunately because we are a nonprofit agency, we have difficulty competing with those big box companies.” 

There is a certain administrative budget OATS has to work within to keep administration cost low and to offer more services.

“It makes it really difficult when we have to try and bump up wages," Stedem said. "We obviously want to take care of our drivers, but we also have to still be able to provide service and stay within our budget.”

Stedem said OATS Transit is important for people who don't have other forms of transportation.

“Any kind of transportation service is critical to them to be able to continue their daily lives," she explained.

OATS is looking for more drivers. To learn on how to apply, visit their website.

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