What have you done for me lately?

Albert Neal, Associate Editor
Posted on March 1, 2005

It can be surprising how much we learn from people when we stop doing all the talking and just listen.

That’s essentially what we do at SBF when we conduct surveys. We ask questions and allow people to respond, candidly, so that they’re heard.

In this issue you’ll find the results of our fifth annual Driver Survey. It says, for the most part, that drivers are satisfied with their jobs. Only a few report dissatisfaction.

This may sound like good news to some, but many others know the real deal. It’s not by coincidence that driver recruitment and retention are two of the top challenges facing school bus fleet operations today.

Something’s amiss.

Our survey said ...
Surveys allow you to get to the bottom of things. Ask the right questions and, generally, you’ll get the responses you seek. The trick is understanding the responses. What are your drivers telling us?

For one thing, some weren’t attracted to the pay when they took the job. More than 50 percent of respondents chose to drive school buses because of the conveniences. Mom and dad drivers can work around their children’s schedules while forgoing the expense of daycare.

Others, such as those on Social Security, took the job for supplemental pay. For some college students, driving a school bus helps pay for tuition.

Where am I going with this? Let me tell you.

If scheduling is the primary factor keeping some of your best drivers around, then you need to consider ways to retain them when those conveniences are no longer required. Children will grow up, and college students will graduate.

Besides, the economy is getting better, and the experience drivers gain behind the wheel of a school bus is transferable to other operations. Some respondents already had experience driving commercial vehicles (see chart on pg. 23).

Our survey said some other interesting things about drivers. Dealing with student behavior, administrators, parents and tough policies aren’t the only things that make returning to work the next morning difficult.

Factors outside the bus add to the chaos, e.g., motorists using cell phones, road hazards and road hogs who won’t allow drivers space to maneuver.

Respondents said stop-arm violators (35.7 percent) and aggressive motorists (21.9 percent) are their biggest challenges outside the bus. The list builds from there. But what can you do?

Try a little tenderness
We asked drivers what would make their jobs more satisfying and gave them a list of options. Not surprisingly, almost half said better pay or benefits.

But we thought it negligent to just ask questions we already had answers to, so we went deeper still.

Drivers know the economy, and they know the budget crises experienced by most public school districts. They know a fat raise won’t be coming anytime soon, so they asked for other, less tangible things. About 16 percent asked for more feedback and/or recognition. These things don’t replace pay and benefits, but they are excellent concessions.

Some chose the “other” category so they could elaborate on what would make their jobs better.

Drivers want to know why policies for full-time drivers are different from those for other full-time district employees? What about self-defense training or more power to discipline unruly students? And how about cracking down on abuse of sick time, which burdens the remaining drivers? What about giving drivers the benefit of the doubt more often? Can you try better communication and follow through?

And the humdinger of them all: Can administrators just come along for a ride one day? Yes, your drivers have something they want to show you.


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