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March 14, 2013  |   Comments (3)   |   Post a comment

Contractors on school busing now, and what lies ahead

In this roundtable, executives from several school bus companies discuss driver shortage, the potential for growth in the contractor market this year, and what impact legislative issues — at the national and state levels — will have on their business, and on the industry as a whole.


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As the pupil transportation industry contends with the tough economic conditions, many school bus contractors are facing the same challenges, including school bus driver shortages. SCHOOL BUS FLEET’s 2012 Contractor Survey found that 83% of respondents reported some degree of shortage.

In speaking with executives at several school bus companies this year, SBF Managing Editor Kelly Roher learned that this continues to be an issue for some, and others predict that the shortage will continue as the economy recovers. The officials discuss efforts in place at their operations to help retain school bus drivers, and they shed light on other issues impacting their business, including the healthcare reform legislation.

SBF: What are you seeing in your areas of service in terms of school bus driver shortage? Are there any initiatives in place at your operation that you feel have helped to retain bus drivers?

John Benish Jr. is chief operating officer for Cook-Illinois Corp. in Oak Forest, Ill.
<p>John Benish Jr. is chief operating officer for Cook-Illinois Corp. in Oak Forest, Ill.</p>
JOHN BENISH: We started to see some minor shortages of drivers this fall. We have been especially hit hard with “underemployed drivers” who began to get back to the kind of jobs they left when the recession started. It is obvious trucking has taken off again, and this has also been tough on getting enough people in the driver seats of school buses. The initiatives we think have helped us quite a bit with retaining drivers are to make sure the current staff is happy and healthy. We feel emphasizing personnel health has been very important. Running contests for perfect attendance during the winter months has also helped us.

LINDA BURTWISTLE: We have seen pockets of driver shortage throughout North America. Over the last two years, we have worked to enhance our driver training programs to ensure that each driver feels confident and equipped to handle any situation that may arise. This builds confidence and improves morale. In addition, we are focused on employee welfare and empowerment — providing recognition, leadership opportunities and wellness initiatives across the organization.

JOHN CORRADO: The driver market has not been an issue for us over the last couple of years.  I do, however, predict, as the economy recovers, we will see another significant shortage of drivers. This is still a part-time job, and attracting and keeping drivers with the typical weekly wage in our industry will be a big challenge by 2015 at the latest.

PATRICK DEAN: Our success in retaining employees starts with our personal interest in making them successful at their job. We spend many hours ensuring that new drivers and monitors understand our mission and their role in that mission before sending them out on the road.
Nearly two years ago, we implemented a school transportation applicant assessment test to help guide our staff in hiring individuals. This tool, along with our focus on the individual, has reduced turnover and increased the overall success of our identification of drivers and attendants who enjoy and succeed in their positions.

DAVID DUKE: We are seeing bus driver shortages in different parts of the U.S. and Canada. Importantly, the qualities of the person we want to recruit, hire and retain are the same that make them desirable to other employers. So as the economy improves, drivers looking for full-time work are moving to other industries and positions. To counter this, we continue to create and offer employee-centric programs to engage employees, increase self-esteem and morale, and contribute to their overall well-being. Our goal is to engage employees at every level, assuring them that they are a valued member of the organization and that their growth, development and satisfaction is important to us. A few initiatives being implemented are “listen and learn” employee focus groups that allow them to speak openly about any concerns they have, Employee of the Month, the Master Driver program, the Going the Extra Mile program, School Bus Slim Down and other proprietary programs.

Domenic Gatto is founder and CEO of Atlantic Express Transportation Group in Staten Island, N.Y.
<p>Domenic Gatto is founder and CEO of Atlantic Express Transportation Group in Staten Island, N.Y.</p>
DOMENIC GATTO: We do not experience school bus driver shortage in our New York City operations as a result of well-paid full-time driver positions with attractive benefits. We do experience pockets of shortage in some areas. We continually recruit and train driver applicants and provide incentives to retain them.

PATRICK VAUGHAN: As of this date, we have been fortunate to have limited shortages across North America. We credit our low turnover rate to our very experienced management team that recognizes the importance of creating a caring culture, and more importantly, a workplace environment that is focused on being responsive to our employees’ issues.

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Read more about: Atlantic Express Transportation Corp., Durham School Services, First Student Inc., National Express Corp., Student Transportation Inc.

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Its amazing how almost all of these contractor think in some part that driver retention is important, as well as benefits. The school district that I have worked for for 21 years, is just the opposite. You get punished the longer you stay there. Wages...the longer you are there, the less raise you get. I recieved a $0.07 raise, while the driver below me recieved $0.34. I have missed only 3 days of work in 21 years and 0 days in the past 11. there is no incentive pay for doing a good job...and, they now are in the process of taking away the incentive not to use our sick days. Before we could accumulate 54 days. When we accumulated the 54, any days beyond that (9 pre year)get paid back to you at 1/2 pay. So basically I would get paid for 4.5 days. But under their new plan, you can still accumulater the 54 days, but anything over that you will only get $25/day reimbusemnet. Well there have been many days that i have driven sick, becasue the incentive to get the extra pay for the unused sick days, but now...at only $25/day, i cant afford to not take them...I guess so much for perfect attendance... There really is no ryme or reason for the way they pay us, and it doesent really make sense. Going back to the pay raise. I dont have any problem with them giving me a $0.07 raise...if they said...."im sorry, this is all you get this year becasue we dont have any money." but when they give a drive $0.07 and another one $0.34, that I have a problem with. It has been that way for years, and no one will listen. So clearly, in the district I drive for, they are not concernecd with driver retention.

Andre Waichulaitis    |    Mar 22, 2013 04:28 AM

We can not keep drivers because our district treats them with no respect. The administrators do not seem to care that they cannot find people to replace us. This week they had two routes with no drivers and had to try to piece together routes. Their ads in the paper bring applicants in, but most all of them do not pass the background or license checks. Oh well, I hope to retire in a few years and could care less if there's no driver to replace me!

KabinKitty    |    Mar 21, 2013 08:00 AM

Thats because some contractors don't want to pay enough to drive

John    |    Mar 14, 2013 04:58 PM

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