ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A bus driver shortage is impacting school districts across the nation. Locally, the Rochester City School District’s bus garage has 23 vacancies. Just this week, 12 drivers resigned. So why is there such a shortage of drivers?
The Executive Director of the National School Transportation Association, Curt Macysyn, has some answers. He said the bus driver shortage dates back to the middle of the pandemic.
“At that point in time, there was no opportunity to recruit new drivers,” Macysyn said. “You add to that fact that during the pandemic, DMV agencies around the country had closed or reduced hours, and we weren’t getting folks through having behind-the-wheel tests, or written tests for their commercial driver’s license.”
Add to those delays the time it takes to actually hire a bus driver. “It can take up to 12 weeks to get that person through their medical certification, fingerprinting, and of course, obtaining that commercial driver’s license,” Macysyn explained. “It’s not a situation where we can have a hiring event and by the next week have a slew of new bus drivers transporting kids, that process is going to take two or three months at minimum.”
As the school year begins, some districts are requiring COVID-19 vaccination by employees or weekly testing. Macysyn said some bus drivers are hesitant to get the shot. “Fifteen to 20% of drivers have vaccine hesitancy, and so every little bit hurts right now. So that may not seem like a big number, but when you’re already dealing with an existing driver shortage, that certainly hurts.”
There are also drivers who are concerned about their health while driving, especially since a large population of children can’t get vaccinated yet. “I’m more concerned about the children being on the bus,” said Crystal Santiago, a former bus driver. “If they didn’t want to wear a mask. They were mandated to wear a mask, and I am like they should be, because I have a family and I have to still be healthy.”
Santiago resigned as a bus driver this summer after six years. She said the biggest reason she stepped down was because of the unique hours. Santiago has three kids at home and she said she wouldn’t be able to take her youngest to school if she was driving a bus.
“He would not get a bus—pre-K does not get busses—so I would have to sign him in and sign him out. Nine thirty and 3:30. There is no way I could drive a bus,” Santiago said. “It’s not like I wanted to resign from being a bus driver. I was willing to help, but I didn’t have a reliable person to transport my child in pre-k. So I can’t see myself taking other kids to school when my son needs a ride.”
Then, there is a concern about pay. The national average pay for bus drivers is $17, which isn’t always enough for families, especially if they need to hire childcare. “If I was to get more, I could afford that. But right now, that is another bill,” Santiago said. “We are already working paycheck to paycheck. It’s too much.”
Macysyn said he is seeing companies start to offer more to help attract and retain drivers. “I’ve seen more effort with respect to hiring events, sign-on bonuses, and outreach than I’ve ever seen,” he said. “The effort is there to attract folks into the industry, for sure.”
Macysyn also said DMVs across the country are aware of the bussing crisis and are starting to prioritize those people applying for a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to help move things along. That license is required for someone to become a bus driver. Macysyn also said they have a proposal to create a school bus-only CDL which would get rid of some of the barriers to entry in the position.
In the meantime, if you know a bus driver, Macysyn said to thank them. “Chances are, they’re putting in a lot of hours. And you know, they’re stepping up and providing this much-needed service during some really challenging times.”