PIQUA — Many school school districts across the nation are facing a shortage of drivers, and Piqua City Schools is no exception.
“We currently have 21 route drivers and one van driver on a daily basis. Our daily routes are covered, but have very few route subs, so when a driver falls ill, it is difficult to replace that person,” Beth Cain, the district’s transportation supervisor, said.
”I currently have two subs who can cover morning routes only and no subs available for afternoon routes. We are currently training three new drivers, but I have one who is leaving next week who is moving out of town and another driver who is retiring in December.
“We have had to leave late on some of the extracurricular trips at times,” Cain added. “We are lucky to have 32 gentlemen who work elsewhere during the day who are able to drive a lot of our extracurricular trips in the late afternoons, so we haven’t had to cancel any athletic events — yet.”
According to School Bus Fleet Magazine, some districts are having to cut bus routes or consolidate them. Every company that replied to the magazine’s survey of the top 50 school bus contractors said they had a shortage of some kind. Fifty-four percent faced a “moderate” shortage, while 22 percent said theirs was “severe.” Nineteen percent said they have a “mild” shortage and five percent said their companies were “desperate.”
In the case of Piqua City Schools, the shortage is forcing drivers to triple up on routes and other employees with commercial driver’s licenses to take the wheel when needed.
“The ones who aren’t triple-routed will drive the route with both schools on the same route, at the same time due to time constraints. Those are either country routes or special-needs routes that don’t have time to do them separately and get students to or from school on time,” Cain said.
“We have an administrative assistant, two custodians and myself who hold CDL’s with school bus and passenger endorsements,” she added. “My assistant and our board custodian drive more than they should have to.”
PCS drivers cover different 118 routes per day, Cain said, which includes transporting passengers to private schools, homeless shelters and special-needs facilities, which they are obligated by law to do.
Cain attributes the district’s driver shortage to several factors, including the fact that bus driving is often a part-time job. “A driver works early mornings and again in the mid-to-late afternoon. A lot of people don’t enjoy a split work schedule and/or don’t enjoy getting up at 5:00 in the morning to go to work and then get home at 5:00 in the afternoon,” she explained.
“Once they arrive, they are outside, pre-tripping the bus before the sun comes up and our first bus is out at 6:16 a.m., with our last bus leaving the lot at 6:51 a.m. To get more hours, some drive extracurricular trips in the evenings and on the weekends.”
The unruly behavior of some students — and sometimes even parents — also can be a deterrent to working as a bus driver.
“It’s not an easy job to maneuver a 44-foot vehicle around narrow streets while dealing with traffic, with 60 kids in your backseat,” Cain said. “Parents don’t seem to show our drivers respect like they used to 20 years ago. Some parents will swear at and even threaten drivers. Even with good pay, it’s hard to put up with this kind of stress on a daily basis.”
Consequently, Cain noted, there is a great deal of turnover in the industry. “Drivers in most schools are aging, and younger people are not showing up to apply. This is going to be a huge problem in five to 10 years,” she said.
“The average age of our route drivers here in Piqua is 49 years old, and when I was the transportation supervisor at Greenville, the average age was 53 years old. All schools report they are not getting younger applicants. This subject is a constant topic in all of the regional and state meetings with all supervisors reporting shortages. The National Association of Pupil Transportation is holding the annual meeting, this November in Columbus, and driver shortage is one of the topics.”
The requirements and training to become a bus driver are intensive and time-consuming. “Drivers must have or be qualified to obtain a commercial driver’s license license with a school bus and passenger endorsement,” Cain said. “We train for this but it takes approximately 30 hours of on-board training and 15 hours of classroom time to obtain the certification. This training is approximately 6-8 weeks on average.”
Additionally, prospective drivers must take a specific physical, a pre-employment drug test, and be fingerprinted for FBI and state background checks. They also have to have a good BMV check with no DUI or reckless operation convictions in the last 10 years.
“Of course,” Cain added, “A good candidate must love kids and be able to multi-task.”
Despite the dearth of drivers in PCS, the district is fortunate compared to others in the state, Cain said.
“I know Ohio schools are all short on drivers. The recently retired supervisor from Columbus sent out an email a year ago, looking for 44 route drivers,” she said. ”We are very lucky here at PCS; we are able to fill our daily routes. There are open routes at a lot schools across Ohio, and all schools are in need of substitute drivers to cover routes and trips.”
Reach Belinda M. Paschal at (937) 451-3341