As we close out 2021 and look forward to the promise of 2022, I think almost universally, student transportation professionals would like to exhale and sigh, especially as we think about the previous 12 months. If you are like me, you feel as if most of the year was dedicated to putting out fires, most a direct result of the lingering effects of the COVID‐19 pandemic and associated variants.
Chief among our concerns remains the driver shortage, an area that has been talked about frequently for most of the year and received headline coverage in most cities. I am pleased to report that our consistent messaging about the reasons behind the shortage of bus drivers has not fallen on deaf ears. The NSTA Advocacy Team met in late September with Meera Joshi, Deputy Administrator for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to discuss the matter. Administrator Joshi and her team understood the constraints that we have been working under, and they were receptive to many of the points raised in the meeting.
I am particularly encouraged by further meetings that NSTA has had with members of Congress, who have read about our plight and stand ready to work toward a legislative solution. It seems at the core of attracting new drivers is the Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) process – currently an endeavor that needs streamlining to more accurately highlight requirements that school bus drivers utilize.
Whether through the regulatory process, or through Congressional action, I feel optimistic that our message is being heard and allies are lining up to help us act. Once we have a bill or rulemaking to address, I am confident that the NSTA Advocacy Team will represent the student transportation industry ably, and CDL process improvement will be forthcoming.
Our partners at the state level have been attentive as well, as many state driver’s license agencies (SDLAs) have undertaken steps to remove redundancies and unnecessary barriers to candidates receiving a CDL in a timely manner, without any sacrifice to safety. We look forward to a continuing dialogue with these agencies, as we band together to address the challenges brought forth by the pandemic.
In addition to the driver shortage and CDL process, the NSTA Advocacy Team has been reviewing an Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) emergency rulemaking that mandates that companies with 100 or more workers require that all their employees get the COVID‐19 vaccine. This rulemaking came out on Nov. 5, 2021, with comments originally due back to the Agency on Dec. 6, 2021.
Due to the complex nature of what is being asked, and following many court challenges, OSHA extended its comment period until Jan. 19, 2022. NSTA will continue to follow these proceedings, as this clearly remains an area that warrants our attention.
As NSTA continues to navigate these issues, I would be remiss if I did not express my gratitude for our Advocacy Team, as their successes ensured the stability of many of our member companies through the implementation of the Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services (CERTS) Program earlier this year. This program brought direct relief to school bus contractors around the country through a grant program administered by the U.S. Department of Treasury.
Once again, I cannot underscore enough the success of our Advocacy Team, as they worked with Treasury, the CERTS Coalition, and industry leaders as the program was stood up. The CERTS Coalition continues to meet to secure more funding for CERTS, as well as to lobby for tax deductibility for CERTS grants.
As we conclude 2021, it is important to highlight these impressive achievements. Despite the fact that we have more challenges on the road ahead, I am encouraged and inspired by the work we have done together and look forward to further collaboration in the weeks and months ahead. I would like to thank everyone involved in student transportation, especially including our drivers, dispatchers, technicians, monitors, and administrative staff for your continued dedication and professionalism. I wish everyone a happy and healthy new year.