Bus drivers are in high demand and school districts are finding student transportation to be challenging. Here are 5 things to know about the current situation:
1. River Falls
"Staffing our buses with qualified drivers has been a challenge for the past five-plus years,” said Director of Finance & Facilities Chad Smurawa in a statement. “The School District of River Falls has worked diligently to attract and retain qualified bus drivers.”
To do so, the district has increased driver wages starting at $21.30 per hour, purchased newer buses that have "easy-to-drive" shifting and will provide all training.
“However, it is still a challenge to staff every bus route every day, as needed and expected by our community,” said Smurawa. “Many days our transportation director and transportation office staff, all licensed drivers, are needed to drive buses in order to help safely transport all students.
It’s not just having to pick up more routes that’s cause for concern. It’s having to pack busses with more students.
Some drivers in the Hudson School District have contracted COVID 19, placing additional stress on the system. Routes have been combined to pick up students and activity buses are becoming a challenge to organize with limited drivers, explained Superintendent Nick Ouellette at a recent school board meeting.
“Our drivers have done an outstanding job,” he said.
3. The National Shortage
The National School Transportation Association conducted a survey with two other trade associations finding that “51% of respondents described their driver shortage as ‘severe’ or ‘desperate.’”
"This back-to-school period is nothing like the previous periods we've seen," NSTAs Executive Director Curt Macysyn told NPR. "In previous years, we've seen regionalized driver shortages, but nothing to the extent that we're seeing today."
Nearly 80% of respondents to the survey also indicated that the school bus driver shortage is getting “much worse” or “a little worse."
In a story done by NPR, Macysyn outlined reasons for the driver shortage.
The first reason was that as the pandemic led to school closures in 2020, drivers were furloughed or opted to retire.
While COVID continued, new drivers still had to obtain a commercial driver’s license in order to be hired. This posed difficulties as many departments of motor vehicles were also closed fully or with limited hours during much of the pandemic.
Lastly, a major concern was and continues to be safety. As children under 12 are not eligible for the COVID 19 vaccine, there are fewer mitigation measures available to protect drivers and riders.
5. Become a Bus Driver
The first step to becoming a bus driver is passing a criminal background check, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s website.
Additionally, all drivers must meet the physical and medical standards for school bus endorsements and hold a commercial drivers license.
To apply to drive for Hudson, drop off a résumé and cover letter or a completed application to Safeway Bus Company.
The River Falls School District is willing to create a work schedule that matches that of anyone interested in becoming a driver or substitute driver. Morning and afternoon shifts are available.