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Driver Shortage Worsens as School Bus Only CDL Gains Support

As discussed during a recent webinar hosted by the three national associations, the school bus driver shortage is one of the worst experienced by industry professionals. One congressional representative is pushing for a school bus-only commercial driver’s license (CDL) to help.

Last week, Rep. Joseph Morelle of New York urged U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to waive the CDL requirement for school bus drivers and instead establish a school bus specific license. This would help address workforce shortages and ensure students can be safely transported to school, he said in a Sept. 3 letter to Buttigieg.

“States, schools, and employers are being faced with new challenges related to the current labor market which are only making it harder for them to hire qualified applicants,” writes Morelle. “As students across the country begin going back to school, we need to make sure that it is easy to hire the necessary workforce to get students into the classroom. Therefore, I urge you to consider waiving the required CDL for school bus drivers to help address the driver shortages exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Morelle cites the severe shortage happening around the nation, and the fact that different states, schools, and employers may ask for different requirements to drive a school bus. He adds that while the CDL provides valuable information to vehicle systems, operations and state rules and regulations, the requirements are exacerbating the shortage of school bus drivers, that was present before the pandemic. The requirements are also making it harder for districts to hire qualified applicants.

“It is important for all school bus drivers to understand how to safely operate a school bus, however, the CDL requirements pertaining to long-haul truckers are onerous and irrelevant to a school bus driver,” Morelle writes. “To prevent future shortages, I urge you to pursue a school bus specific license that would waive the repair-oriented, under-the-hood vehicle inspection requirements of the CDL.”

Morelle’s press release on Sept. 9, came the same day as a webinar presented by the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT), National Association for State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS), and the National School Transportation Association (NSTA) that discussed their findings of a driver shortage survey conducted in July. Dr. Larry Seibert, who conducted the survey, walked attendees through its findings and compared them to similar 2017 and 2016 surveys.


Related: Half of U.S. School Districts Rate Bus Driver Shortage as ‘Desperate’


The most recent research looked at eight questions, specifically focusing on the school bus driver shortage, what districts are doing to attract and retain applicants, and top recruiting strategies in place. The survey encompassed over 1,500 directors nationwide.

Compared to 2017, 17 percent more people the current shortage was severe or desperate, with over half of those responses coming from districts that operate more than 88 routes, primarily in the South Atlantic geographic division. Plus, 65 percent of respondents stated that the driver shortage was their number one concern, compared to 51 percent in 2017.

Directors shared that the top four major factors contributing to driver recruitment and retaining are rate of pay, obtaining a CDL, number of hours available to work and benefits or lack of benefits. They are the same top four reasons in 2017.

Fifty-four percent of districts with between seven and 17 routes indicated that rate of pay was a major factor, while 52 percent of smaller districts, up to six routes, indicated that obtaining a CDL was a major factor.


Related: New York Public Transportation Agency Assists with School Bus Driver Shortage
Related: (STN Podcast E80) Industry Buzz: Excitement for Electric School Buses & Driver Shortage Solutions
Related: 2,100 Chicago Public Schools Students Without Rides Amid Bus Driver Shortage
Related: School Buses Rolling Again as Students Head Back to School
Related: School District Pays Parents to Drive Their Children to School


The internet and newspaper ads are still the most popular advertising option, as was also the case in 2017. Meanwhile, 36 percent of respondents indicated that they have expanded their advertising into new areas to target new populations.

Most respondents indicated that increased pay and hiring bonuses are currently being used to attract potential drivers. Other incentives to attract applicants included bonuses, paying for CDL training, paid holidays, medical insurance, daycare credit or the option to bring children to work, increased/guaranteed hours, and luncheons.

The survey also found that 76 percent of all respondents have altered their transportation services because of the pandemic. The survey did not ask participants to specify how their services were altered, but association leaders said this question could be a good follow-up to another survey.

One conversation that came out of the webinar was that the NSTA and NASDPTS also support a school bus only CDL. While no details were shared on what this would look like, it could potentially help with the school bus driver shortage.

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