As private school bus contractors throughout the country continue to rebound from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the National School Transportation Association (NSTA) recently conducted a flash poll to measure the severity of the school bus driver shortage from a national perspective.
Private school bus operators provide nearly 40% of the nation's school bus service in 200,000 yellow school buses with close to 380,000 employees. Each day, almost 26 million children rely on the school bus as their primary way to get to school in the safest way possible.
This survey was conducted by NSTA from March 7-14 in partnership with Transfinder Infomatics, a service of Transfinder Corp., a 34-year-old company that develops school bus routing and logistics software.
Meanwhile, 12% of polltakers said they were down drivers by more than 20% and 16% said their driver workforce had dropped between 16-20%. Poll results showed that 28% of respondents saw a 6-10% shortfall in their driver workforce, followed closely by 26% of survey takers who indicated being down 11-15%. Overall, the poll results showed that 94% of respondents indicated that they were not at expected bus driver staffing levels.
"This NSTA poll validates what we already knew to be true, and that a severe school bus driver shortage continues to impact student transportation,” said Curt Macysyn, NSTA executive director. “As you can see, the driver shortage has impacted operations throughout the United States, and by aggregating data we see that 54% of survey respondents said that they are more than 10% short of drivers. That's a staggering number.”
Said Antonio Civitella, president and CEO of Transfinder: "The NSTA Driver Shortage Flash Poll that Transfinder Infomatics conducted paints a very clear picture of how school bus operators are struggling to find bus drivers. Very few respondents said they didn't have a driver shortage issue. The bulk of those taking the survey said they were down between 6% to 15%. That's a sizable shortage that districts are working to overcome to transport students safely and on time every day. And we know the school bus is the safest form of transportation available to students."
NSTA continues to work with policymakers at the national and state levels to provide solutions that will achieve the result of getting more school bus driver applicants trained, qualified, licensed, and behind the wheel without delay. The recent Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) granting of a waiver for the engine compartment component of the pre-trip vehicle inspection skills testing requirement, also known informally as the "under-the-hood" component, for commercial driver's license (CDL) applicants is an example where the CDL process can be streamlined, without any impact to safety.
However, the waiver expires on March 31 and, as the survey results show, the industry continues to be adversely affected by the driver shortage.
Statistics indicate that students are significantly safer riding to and from school in a school bus than walking, riding bikes, or riding/driving in their family car. The number of fatalities of school-age children traveling to and from school, per 100-million vehicle miles traveled (VMT), is 70 times higher in passenger vehicles than in school buses.
"The iconic yellow bus represents the safest and most efficient way to get children to school each day, so the driver shortage affects communities in an impactful way," Macysyn said.