The following op-ed was initially posted on School Bus Fleet in January 2015. In light of a persisting driver shortage, we are rerunning it and have updated it with some links to related articles offering insights and solutions.
The op-ed expresses the author’s opinions and not necessarily those of SBF.
When I started driving a school bus quite a few years ago, there was a cantankerous old bus driver who always used to say, "There will never be another 30-year bus driver here."
At the time, many of the drivers dismissed her statement as being just another one of her crazy rants, because many of the drivers working then had already been driving a school bus for 10 years or more. But in light of the increasing school bus driver shortages we are now seeing around the country, her statement seems almost prophetic, because it is ringing true all over. If she were alive today, I would be telling her that she was right, and she would be grinning, because she saw this coming long before the rest of us.
The questions in front of us are what is causing these severe school bus driver shortages all over, why are bus drivers leaving or retiring from these positions at a faster pace, and what is so different now that makes driving a school bus less appealing than ever before?
I’ve compiled many ideas and points of view on this issue from other school bus drivers, trainers, and some route supervisors or managers from across the country — coupled with my own experience. Here are six key reasons that school bus drivers hang up their keys.
1. Low Pay
School bus drivers earn less per hour than other CDL class drivers on the road.
2. Limited Hours
We work a split shift, so there is a limited number of hours we can get. In many cases, extra work, like field trips, pays far less than the amount we get for driving our regular routes.
3. Part-Time Status
Even if we are offered benefits like full-time employees, our employers still consider us part-time employees because we work one shift in the early morning and another shift in the afternoon. The trouble is that the hours of our so-called part-time job are such that it makes it impossible to do any other part-time job, because no one will hire us for the hours we have left in our day.
4. Unaffordable Health Care
Many bus drivers who are offered health and other benefits cannot afford them — or, as we often say, they are working for benefits — because there is nothing much left of their check after the premiums for them are deducted.
5. Start-Up Costs
You are going to have to come up with some money, in most cases, for this job even before or at least at the start of your school bus driver training, because you are going to need a pre-employment background check, drug test and a physical. Every new driver winds up paying all or a part of the cost of all these things. Yes, you will have a Class B CDL after the training, but if you have been out of work and have no money, it is going to be a while before you get a check for this job.
6. Lack of Support
The main reason people are bailing out of this job faster rests squarely on the shoulders of upper management or administration of bus companies and school systems. Some common grievances here include: administrators not backing up school bus drivers when parents complain; policies that don’t support drivers; disciplinary actions that are perceived as inequitable; not showing appreciation for oldest employees; and too many hoops for drivers to jump through to get administrators to discipline children for unsafe behavior on the bus.
Recently, a middle school girl boarded my bus in tears because she was jumped or attacked by another girl while walking to the bus. She looked quite scared and cried the entire trip home, despite her friends’ efforts to console her.
When I got home, I called her home on my own time and asked her father if she was all right. Her father was angry about what happened to her, but he thanked me several times for checking on her and thanked me again when I saw him the next day.
When parents are shocked that a school bus driver does care, is this not a clear indication that our public school systems are failing on some level?
Kim Morrison has been a school bus driver in Citrus County, Florida, for nearly 15 years. He is also a published poet/writer and has won several awards from national and state poetry contests. Most of his work can be seen here.