New York's Morelle Seeks CDL Waiver for School Bus Drivers

Photo courtesy of U.S. Rep. Joseph Morelle

A New York congressman wants the U.S. Department of Transportation to waive the commercial driver’s license requirement in hopes of easing the dire nationwide school bus driver shortage.

In a letter to Pete Buttigieg, federal transportation secretary, Joseph Morelle (D-N.Y.) complained that CDL requirements create hurdles “for states, schools, and employers to hire new school bus drivers. This is worsening existing shortages and will make it harder for students to go back to school in the fall.”

Beyond the standard CDL license, different employers may seek different additional requirements and special designations or endorsements.

“While I understand the importance of the CDL in providing valuable information related to vehicle systems, operation, and state rules and regulations, these requirements are exacerbating a shortage of school bus drivers that was present even before the (COVID-19) pandemic,” Morelle wrote. “Furthermore, as states, schools, and employers are faced with new challenges related to the current labor market, these requirements are only making it harder for them to hire qualified applicants.”

6 Takeaways on the State of School Transportation

The congressman went on to note that although he considers it important for drivers to understand how to safely operate a bus, CDL requirements that pertain to long-haul truckers aren’t relevant.

“To prevent future shortages, I urge you to pursue a school bus-specific license that would waive the repair-oriented, under-the-hood vehicle inspection requirements of the CDL,” Morelle wrote.

The National School Transportation Association (NSTA) in August 2020 made a similar proposal to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for a school bus-only CDL. However, that idea hasn’t made much progress since the changeover between presidential administrations. 

A joint survey by NSTA, the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT), and the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation (NASDPTS) released in August showed that obtaining a CDL was among the major obstacles to recruiting new school bus drivers. 

Ronna Weber, executive director of the NASDPTS, said that the organization “is acutely aware of the school bus driver shortage and supports the careful review and consideration of any solution to alleviate the shortage as long as it ensures the safe transportation of students.”

However, she added, “We do not endorse any specific solutions at this time, but will continue to evaluate options as they are presented.”

The DOT has not yet responded to a request for comment from School Bus Fleet.