Our annual survey of school transportation and administration professionals provided insight into some of the many things districts are doing to alleviate issues related to the school bus driver shortage.
In today’s school transportation industry, the issue of the ongoing school bus driver shortage is an unavoidable one. It’s a long-standing issue that has only been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. And it’s having an undeniable — and substantial — impact on schools and students alike.
Almost 90% of school transportation professionals who responded to our 2022 State of School Transportation Report survey indicated that the school bus driver shortage has constrained their transportation operations. And those constraints were labeled as “severe” by nearly 30% of respondents.
The top five reasons for the bus driver shortage, as reported by survey respondents, are:
- driver recruitment challenges
- low driver wages
- drivers retiring
- COVID-19 concerns
- losing school bus drivers to the private sector
School administration and transportation professionals, however — whose jobs require them to be dedicated and resourceful by nature — are discovering new ways to secure reliable and safe transportation for students. Some new and different approaches were revealed by responses to the following question from our 2022 State of School Transportation survey:
“Has your district turned to any unconventional solutions to remedy the school bus driver shortage this school year, and if so what have you tried?”
Loosening school bus driver requirements
Some school districts are relaxing school bus driver prerequisites to offset driver recruitment challenges and get new drivers behind the wheel faster. “We are now hiring bus drivers without CDLs,” said Director of Transportation Gregory Dutton, “and allowing them up to 90 days to complete the training.”
“We are using retired drivers, and another district has turned to using substitute teachers as drivers,” said Tipene Darrow, a bus router.
The district where another survey respondent, a router specialist, works has utilized contractors to solve issues related to the bus driver shortage: “We hired a couple drivers through a contract bus driver company to try and help alleviate some of the shortage pains.”
Offering financial incentives
There are many factors propelling the bus driver shortage, and one CDL coordinator and survey respondent indicated that her district is willing to invest in pulling out all the stops to address it. “We raised our hourly pay, and we are willing to train any new hires who would like to get their CDL,” she explained. “I give them their CDL written tests, we train them behind the wheel and I give them their driving exam. It costs us $1,500 to $2,000 per driver to help them get their license.”
Similar financial-related tactics were reported by an anonymous transportation supervisor. “With the driver shortages, we’ve had to at times combine routes, increase our driver pay and institute a sign-on bonus to get applicants.”
The School District of Philadelphia has tried a different but related approach, as a transportation coordinator for that district described. “We’ve offered a $300 per month stipend to families who choose to opt out of transportation for the year. Parents are then responsible for getting their child to and from school.”
Partnering with alternative transportation providers
More than half of respondents to our 2022 survey said their district uses alternative transportation solutions to handle some of the issues they are experiencing due to the bus driver shortage.
The most common reported use for these types of outside resources is transportation for special education students. The next most frequent use is McKinney-Vento transportation for students experiencing homelssness.
Relying on public transit or cabs
Public transit and cabs are also being relied on by some school districts as options to get students to school, though they present their own set of challenges.
“We primarily use the public transit system to coordinate transportation for our students, which in a way means their transportation is out of our hands,” said one anonymous survey respondent. “If a train or bus breaks down, we have no control or alternative for them to get to school.”
Encouraging walking or the use of bicycles
Due to the bus driver shortage, many school districts have been forced to expand walk boundaries to decrease the number of students who rely on bus transportation. An anonymous transportation coordinator who responded to our survey revealed that his district is “encouraging the students to ride bicycles” to and from campus.
Having students walk or ride bicycles to school, however, aren’t perfect solutions, either. Said another anonymous survey respondent: “Children who have to cross unsafe areas to get to school often do not come if they cannot be accompanied or are running late.”
The importance of thinking outside the box
Bus driver shortages have plagued the school transportation industry for years. Fueled by the pandemic, they have now reached dire levels. Bus drivers have retired in droves, and districts are struggling to fill open roles.
With student safety as the number-one priority, it’s understandable that some school districts are being overly cautious about trying new ways of doing things when it comes to school transportation. But student transportation problems are evolving, and that means the models to solve them need to evolve, too. New solutions and creative thinking are no longer optional — they are a necessity.