Five to drive: How one big state is recruiting more school bus drivers

'This is not a new problem,' industry leader says. 'Nor it is easy to solve.'
By: | September 20, 2021

Bus driver shortages have disrupted in-person instruction this school year nearly as much as COVID infections and quarantines.

In Massachusetts, 100 members of the National Guard began training last week to drive school buses, ABC News reported. In Nebraska, students have reported waiting up to two hours for a school bus, the Lincoln Journal-Star reported.

One New Jersey district has shifted school start times and moved sporting events to weekends when more drivers are available. And many districts across the country have had to close schools for a day or more because there were not enough drivers to pick students up.

In one attempt to solve the problem, New York state is now reaching out to 550,000 commercial driver’s license holders in an effort to recruit them as school bus drivers, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on Sunday.

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“Our schools and public health officials have moved mountains to ensure our children receive an in-person education this year, and we are leaving no stone unturned to make sure schools have adequate bus service to bring students to school and back,” Hochul said in a statement.

Here are the steps the state is taking:

  1. The state will survey CDL holders and then share their information with school districts that need drivers.
  2. State agencies are also tapping into law enforcement, fire departments, the military and other organizations that have trained drivers in order to find more candidates.
  3. The state’s DMV will expedite the commercial driver’s licensing process by removing the 14-day waiting period between the permit test and the road tests. The state will also open new CDL road-testing sites.
  4. School staff who hold a CDL can participate in an expedited test process to get a permit to drive vans and buses temporarily.
  5. The state is also encouraging schools to consider using federal funds to increase signing and retention bonuses and other benefits for bus drivers.

‘Not a new problem’

More than half of school districts reported “severe” or “desperate” bus driver shortages, and more than three-quarters said the shortages were getting worse, according to a survey done in August by The National Association for Pupil Transportation, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, and the National School Transportation Association.

Roughly two-thirds of the respondents said bus driver shortages are their No. 1 concern while only 1% of the respondents indicated it is not a problem.

“Let’s be clear—this is not a new problem,” said Mike Martin, executive director of the National Association for Pupil Transportation. “Nor is it easy to solve.”

The survey also found:

  • Every region of the country is currently altering transportation service: 79% of respondents in the Northeast said they have altered service, 77% in the Midwest, 66% percent in the South, and 80% in the West.
  • 91% of respondents said they have altered service to elementary schools, 90% have altered service to middle schools, and 83% have altered service to high schools.
  • The average number of days in the hiring process is 16, with the Northeast averaging 17 days, the Midwest and the South averaging 16 days, and the West averaging 22 days.
  • In a question that allowed for multiple answers, 50% of respondents said the rate of pay is a major factor affecting their ability to recruit and retain drivers, while 45% cited the length of time to secure a CDL.