As those involved in school transportation well know, these past few years have presented us with unprecedented challenges. The COVID‐19 pandemic placed stress on the student transportation system like we had never seen before, and while it appears that the worst is now behind us, our recovery remains tenuous.
To put in simple terms: the storm is gone, but we must deal with the aftermath of this event. For myriad reasons that have been articulated throughout the pandemic, the fact remains that the pupil transportation system needs more school bus drivers.
Last summer, NSTA joined with NAPT and NASDPTS to convene a national poll of transportation professionals to determine the severity of the driver shortage. That poll was conducted back in July in anticipation of the back‐to‐school months of August and September. Those findings were widely distributed, and became the source of many media inquiries over the course of the early fall.
For the most part, the submission of the survey and the accompanying media attention it gathered provided a backdrop for NSTA to engage with policy‐makers and elected officials as we tried to provide long term solutions to this vexing problem.
In January, we were pleased to report that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued a temporary 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. This is an example where the CDL process could be streamlined without any impact to safety.
Over the long haul, student transportation needs permanent solutions that not only serve the purpose of streamlining the licensing process, but also remove potential barriers to applicants getting trained, qualified, licensed, and successfully and efficiently put behind the wheel. These changes must do so without sacrificing safety.
Unfortunately, this waiver remains a temporary measure, set to expire on March 31, 2022. NSTA continues to work with various stakeholders to ensure a lasting solution is enacted. Since the fall survey became “out‐of‐sight‐out‐of‐mind” as student transportation made do with the staffing levels that faced us in the fall, NSTA decided to again take account of where our members stand with respect to the shortage.
We conducted a “Flash Poll” from March 7-14 in partnership with Transfinder Infomatics, and the results did not show any significant improvement in the six months since schools opened. In fact, the poll results may show that this problem may, in fact, have worsened over time.
Poll results showed that 28% of respondents still saw a 6‐10% shortfall in their driver workforce, followed closely by 26% of survey takers who indicated an 11-15% shortage of drivers. Overall, the poll results showed that all respondents have some level of driver shortage and 12% of polltakers said they were more than 20% short of drivers – with 16% saying they were 16-20% short of drivers.
These results verify what we already know – the driver shortage has not gotten better since the start of school.
As we begin to set the groundwork for the 2022‐23 school year, student transportation leaders still must drive home the point that we need permanent solutions that will remove unnecessary impediments and attract more candidates into pupil transportation. To do so, we need support from our policy partners to make meaningful adjustments that do not lessen the safety statistics for which school buses are so well known.