There was a time when being a school bus driver and transporting students five days a week elicited respect. Now with everything going on in today’s times, that is not the case much anymore.
In the last five years, I have watched things change so much for school bus drivers and contractors. It is sad. I have watched as contractors take a beating on school contacts, payables and pricing. I have watched drivers be disrespected more and more by parents, school administrators, and on social media.
I have been asking a lot of questions to contractors and drivers, what I hear is depressing. Yes, times are difficult right now with COVID-19.
COVID-19 is what may have just broken the back of the school bus transportation industry. The school bus industry was in trouble before COVID-19. Now, it has added to the problem.
I have taken the time to talk to owners of school buses. In many conversations, I am hearing similar stories. Before COVID-19, many contractors were dealing with school districts wanting more for less. Many contractors were dealing with a lack of or no support from the schools they were contracted to, which meant drivers were not getting support with problems on their buses.
Contractors were also dealing with school districts wanting drivers to be removed from the driver’s seat just to avoid dealing with problems. Keep in mind many of these drivers did nothing wrong. The school districts thought that was the better solution than dealing with students and parents. Some school districts think school bus drivers are plentiful.
Safety has also taken a back seat for some school districts. This is one conversation that came up in almost every conversation with owners. Drivers are being expected to drive in unsafe student situations. That unsafe student situation can cause a driver to have an accident while dealing with a continuous behavior issue that distracts the driver from the road.
Another sad issue is how parents perceive school bus drivers. Many times I have had to hear from individuals what they think of school bus drivers. In speaking with owners, they have told me of some of the phone calls they receive about drivers, which are cruel and harsh. There will always be a small percentage of drivers that you have to let go because this is not the job for them.
When I hear negative comments about school bus drivers, I speak up and ask the person if they can do better. I will train them to drive a school bus. That conversation usually ends quickly. Many people do not understand how much work an individual had to do to become a school bus driver.
Since COVID-19, the school bus industry has been decimated. The driver shortage is worse than before. Relationships between school districts and contractors have been deteriorating, as contractors were trying to get paid. Unfortunately, some have not been paid at all or had to take a percentage cut. Some long-standing relationships between contractors and school districts are irreparable.
Some owners I talked to were dumbfounded when they were told that they were thieves for charging so much for transportation, and they should be happy they still have a contract. Some contractors in this country responded to their district customers, saying that they will not have transportation anymore if they have shut down their businesses and sell their buses. Before COVID-19 is done, there will be more bus companies going out of business.
The shortage will not be just drivers but also contractors to provide the service. Also, let us not forget the federal government not recognizing the entire bus industry needs help.
As COVID-19 and virtual and hybrid learning schedules continue, drivers are choosing to take employment somewhere else. Many school bus drivers are leaving the industry. Many have their own reasons, but the strongest reasons are they need a job to pay bills, they are tired of the disrespect from administrators and parents, they receive no support to do their job safely, and they just feel unappreciated.
At the end of COVID-19, many school districts are going to turn around and find they will not have school buses to transport their students. There is one statement I have read many times over the years “school busing is a privilege for regular education students, not a right.” The privilege has been abused far too long. When we will be needed, some of us will not be there anymore.
Zina Ronca is a driver supervisor for DuVall Bus Service, LLC in West Grove, Pennsylvania. She is an 18-year veteran of the student transportation industry and is also a school bus driver instructor and third-party commercial driver’s license tester. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.