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Center Identification Number: 415-09

Project Title: Where are the Future Transit Maintenance Technicians Coming From?

Principle Investigators: 

Ed Bart, Senior Research Associate

Amber Reep, Research Associate


Center for Urban Transportation Research
University of South Florida
Tampa, Florida

I. Project Objective

CUTR, in coordination with the FDOT, will conduct research on the demographic and technological shifts in public transit maintenance departments and their effects on staffing. This research will be used in formulating a final report, which will identify successful programs instituted by public transit agencies nation-wide to deal with these shifts and their effects.

II. Project Abstract

A looming demographic shift and a continued rapid change in technology are converging to create an unprecedented problem for public transit vehicle maintenance departments nationwide. Within a decade, a large number of current transit technicians are expected to retire from the workforce. This is expected to create a labor shortage, and precisely when transit agencies are expected to maintain their fleets for longer periods of time before replacement. Where are tomorrow's technicians coming from?

Although such a demographic challenge has been faced and overcome in transit before (in the 1970's) one major difference is evident today. To replace those retiring from the workforce, the industry must be able to find and successfully recruit technicians with significantly different skill sets than their predecessors. Today's, and indeed tomorrow's technicians must possess the aptitude and abilities to engage in computer and electronics-intensive job tasks.

Pro-active transit maintenance departments have already set out to find solutions to this problem. Some have developed apprenticeship programs with local technical schools and community colleges. However, no nation-wide study of this impending problem has been undertaken. No assessment of how large the problem will be, what strategies are being explored to counteract its effects, or how this will affect the industry as a whole has been conducted. To date, it has been left to individual maintenance managers to resolve, along with their normal management responsibilities. In numerous conversations with maintenance managers, this issue arose as a particular concern.

III. Task Descriptions

Task 1 - Data Gathering and Identification of Issues

The first step in this task is to determine the estimated size of the retiring maintenance technician population. This information will be obtained through Census data, data from the United States Department of Labor, and other governmental sources.

The next step in this task is to identify the emerging technologies that will affect the necessary skill level of maintenance technicians. The source of information for this effort will be national trade publications, research documents, publications produced by or sponsored by the United States Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), and other industry associations and trade groups.

The final step in this task is the identification of the problems maintenance departments have in attracting and retaining new maintenance technicians. This information will come through a written survey with telephonic follow up to maintenance departments at a randomly selected group of transit agencies within the United States.

Task 2 - Initial Discussions with Selected Maintenance Departments in Transit Agencies

CUTR researchers will have initial conversations with selected maintenance departments in transit agencies across the country where maintenance innovations are already in place (identified through NTI Transit Training award data).

Task 3 - Solicitation of other innovations, programs, or approaches dealing with this issue

This will be done through survey of public transit maintenance departments nationally and through CUTR's Transit Maintenance listserv and website. This effort will tie in with the final step in Task 1.

Task 4 - Compilation of data and recommendations into final report.

Task 5 - Wide distribution of report by nationwide mailing and through CUTR's Transit Maintenance listserv and website.

IV. Student Involvement

Students will be used in Task 1 for data collection and will assist in the survey efforts in Task 1 and Task 3.

V. Relationships to Other Research Projects

The Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR) at the University of South Florida houses a number of FDOT sponsored programs directly related to public transit maintenance and technology, including the Florida Maintenance Training Program (FMTP) and the Florida Vehicle Procurement Program (FVPP). CUTR will coordinate closely with these programs to ensure that the most current and accurate information is used in addressing this research topic. In addition, CUTR has extensive experience exploring human resource management issues and best practices among transit agencies nation-wide.

VI. Technology Transfer Activities

The results of this research will be compiled into a final report which will be widely distributed. Distribution is anticipated to all public transit maintenance departments, all state Department of Transportation public transit offices, and other public transit professionals. The final report will be available through the internet on CUTR's website as well.

VII. Potential Benefits of the Project

Identifying both the size and scope of the upcoming challenges to public transit maintenance departments will help to draw attention to this issue and alert transit agencies in time to respond pro-actively. In addition, exploring solutions that have already been developed and put into place in maintenance departments can be a useful guide to agencies as they determine their own strategy.

VIII. TRB Keywords

Transit, maintenance, public transportation, technicians


National Center for Transit Research at the Center For Urban Transportation Research University of South Florida 4202 E. Fowler Ave., CUT100 Tampa, FL 33620-5375 (813) 974-3120 (813) 974-5168 Comments: