Driver Shortage Causes Delay for Student Travel to and from Campus
The past two years have posed many unexpected challenges for the corporation, but there is one unique to the 2021-2022 school year that few saw coming: a bus driver shortage.
So far this year on seven separate school days, some students have had either late arrivals or delays in leaving campus due to a bus driver shortage. Announcements were through email and social media to let students know their ride home would be impacted.
These situations occurred due to a lack of bus drivers available to take students home, which resulted in some drivers having to make multiple after-school routes to get students home safely.
Approximately 75% of Paoli students rely on buses for daily transportation, with the amount of students per bus ranging anywhere from 15 to the maximum capacity of around 60.
“When we have delays for our double routes in the afternoons, we leave about 40 to 45 minutes later because that’s [how long] most of our routes run,” said Transportation Director Darek Newkirk.
The Bus Drivers
Currently the corporation employs a total of 22 bus drivers with 19 different bus routes. Of these, 10 are private drivers who own their own buses and contract out of the corporation. The remaining 12 are drivers who operate buses which belong to the corporation. In addition to the main drivers, there are also a few substitute drivers from the community who fill in when needed.
Despite there being more drivers than there are routes, issues like delays have still occurred. This is due to the fact that not all drivers are able to drive every day. Most of our drivers are employed elsewhere in addition to the corporation and therefore have scheduling conflicts which prevent them from driving.
“We have subs that are on our list but are not available due to their other jobs so we just need subs who can drive in the afternoons at the times we need them,” said Newkirk.
In the coming years, this could become even more of a problem with several drivers nearing retirement in the next five to 10 years. The corporation will then need to replace any retiring driver to continue current routes.
Bus and route delays are not a problem exclusive to Paoli. There are many other corporations who have faced the same struggles across the state.
In some instances, the shortages were so severe that in-school learning was paused. This was the case for Pike Township
Schools in Carmel, Indiana. Earlier this fall the corporation did not have enough drivers to make the routes necessary to transport students to campus and were forced to switch to virtual learning until they could fix the problem.
The current labor shortage may not be the only culprit responsible for the driver deficit. Bus drivers are required to obtain
a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) which is more time-consuming than a traditional license.
Tim Golden, the Lost River Co-Op’s entry-level training provider for CDL knows the course work firsthand and challenges interested drivers may face. Golden acknowledges the difficult process that must be completed in order to receive one’s CDL but also the rewards that come with it.
“I’ve had a few students who have signed up for the class and then when they realize there is a lot of bookwork, they drop out. The class sounds overwhelming, but it’s not. It’s a lot more fun than a person would think. There is a lot of work, but once you get that CDL, you get it for life and you will always have a job available,” said Golden.
In February 2022, the process to earn a CDL and a bus license is only becoming harder. Requirements are currently only to pass a test at the DMV and although it is a test that is not easy to pass, it pales in comparison to the new requirements. It involves a three-week CDL course that also requires an out of pocket cost extending into the thousands.
Due to the upcoming changes to licensing of the process, many are discouraged from completing it which will only make it that much harder for schools like ours to find new drivers after the change. As a result, the corporation is trying to get in drivers as fast as possible.
Possible New Drivers
“We are trying to recruit as many as we can. We actually have a couple applications right now so we’re just trying to get the word out that we need drivers and trying to see what we can do,” said Newkirk.
Story by Masden Embry