The National School Transportation (NSTA) co‐sponsored a recent survey, along with our colleagues at the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) and the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS), to gather data regarding America’s school bus driver shortage.
The survey was conducted in late July and early August, and it garnered nearly 1,500 responses. Because of the robust participation, the survey had a level of precision for statistics that is +/‐ 2.5% at 95% confidence.
In other words, the survey and its responses provided a legitimate snapshot into the student transportation world at a critical period – during preparation for Back‐to‐School and while managing through COVID.
Overall, the survey aimed to understand the depths of the school bus driver shortage. After all, we had been observing the landscape for better part of 2021. In that respect, the survey results were certainly no surprise. What we saw was that a vast majority of pupil transportation professionals were affected regardless of school district size or geography.
Some of the significant findings highlighted what most of us were seeing in our own operations. First, every region of the country is currently altering transportation service due to the COVID‐19 pandemic. The breakdown was very similar across the board with 79% of respondents in the Northeast saying they have altered service, 77% in the Midwest, 66% percent in the South, and 80% in the West.
In terms of student transportation providers having to balance competing schedules, it was noted that 91% of respondents said they have altered service to elementary schools, 90% have altered service to middle schools, and 83% have altered service to high schools.
With respect to the driver shortage, most of the responses fell in line with observations we witnessed recently, as 51% of respondents described their driver shortage as “severe” or “desperate”, and roughly two‐thirds of all respondents (65%) indicated that bus driver shortage is their number one problem or concern. We were also interested in whether the situation was trending better or worse; roughly three‐quarters of all respondents (78%), indicated that the school bus driver shortage is getting “much worse” or “a little worse”.
If nothing else, the survey strongly confirmed many of the dynamics that student transportation has encountered over the past several months, and while this information provides a good foundation for discussions between stakeholders and policymakers, it does not contain a much‐needed solution to the bus driver shortage.
The industry will have to go through a period of adjustment and become innovative in ways we have not previously utilized. For example, we have seen an increase in wages and benefits, but wages and benefits only provide a partial solution to this comprehensive problem. For example, if operators are simply vying for the same workers, the industry will still be left short staffed. Instead, operators are going to have to be keenly focused on maintaining their current level of staffing, and then seek long-term solutions that will ultimately increase the school bus driver pool.
At NSTA, we are sharing best practices among our members to help companies recruit, screen, train and retain drivers and are also working with policymakers to take a comprehensive review of the Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) requirements to ensure that they are streamlined and applicable to student transportation. Part of the solution lies within our ability to lean on State Driver’s License Agencies (SDLAs) to become more flexible and remove unnecessary wait times and barriers to entry.
As we realized early in the pandemic, solving problems requires everyone to pull together in the interests of our primary stakeholder – the nearly 26-million children we transport to and from school each day.