Technicians getting their start in a school transportation operation can expect to make just under $22 per hour, according to the latest School Bus Fleet annual maintenance survey.
The average hourly wage rose $1.46 over last year, from $20.50 to $21.96.
Unfortunately, more than half the respondents indicated that their technicians still are called on to serve as backup drivers of the buses they maintain due to the ongoing driver shortage.
Noted one respondent, it’s tough for mechanics to focus on bus maintenance when they’re also called on to drive and manage routing and scheduling.
“With technicians covering routes, we are limited on the number of available hours during the day,” wrote a respondent. “Our technicians are working nights and weekends, and we worry about burnout factor.”
When they’re covering routes, said another, “that is four hours that they aren’t being productive.”
And when they’re working on maintenance, the average technician has 26 school buses to worry about. Nearly two-third (64%) of survey respondents are expected to handle upkeep on vehicles from two or three manufacturers.
Maintenance Pain Points
Good help continues to be hard to find, with respondents struggling to keep up with technology and finding technicians who are experienced at working on school buses at all (let alone vehicles from multiple brands). Only 6% of surveyed fleets reported that they had at least one female technician on staff.
And it may not be surprising to learn that 97% of those surveyed reported that they’ve seen another spike in prices for parts, from tires, batteries, and brakes to fluids, electronics, and engine components.
“Electronic and metal components are the highest,” said one respondent. “Average of 19% increase from last school year on our top 10 parts.”
Adding to the pain: when parts can be purchased, they may be unavailable or backlogged. Plus, fleets also find themselves waiting for delivery of new buses that have been slowed by their own supply chain struggles in recent years.
Some technicians also chafe at the shift to zero-emission school buses encouraged by projects like the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean School Bus Program, especially moving to electric buses “without proper infrastructure.” Wrote one respondent: “The utility companies can’t provide the power necessary if and when we do get the chargers and wiring in place.”
More Survey Highlights
Other highlights of the 2023 survey include:
- More than two-thirds (68%) of school transportation operations indicated they planned to buy new buses this year.
- Fleets are getting younger. The average age of a school bus fell to 8.8 (compared to 9.3 years in 2022).
- 97% of fleets surveyed reported that they use diesel-fueled school buses. More than half use gasoline. But a rising number are fueled by propane and electricity.
- 88% of fleets maintain Type C school buses. More than half have Type A school buses.
- Less than a third (28%) reported that they buy used school buses.
- More than half (53%) of shops use fleet maintenance software, up slightly from 2022.
Thanks to everyone who participated, sharing their insights and pain points. Check out the complete survey details in the March print edition of School Bus Fleet. Didn't get to participate but still want to let us know your maintenance situation? Feel free to send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.