The National School Transportation Association said results of a recent survey of private school bus company members survey indicate an ongoing severe shortage of school bus drivers nationwide.
Curt Macysyn, NSTA’s executive director, pointed out on Thursday that the “flash poll” conducted from March 7 through 14 resulted in 54 percent of contractor members indicating they have more than a 10 percent driver shortage.
“That’s a staggering number,” Macysyn added.
NSTA conducted the survey with Transfinder Infomatics, an analytics service of Transfinder. Fifty-five member companies responded, according to Macysyn.
Transfinder founder and CEO Antonio Civitella commented that the survey “paints a very clear picture of how school bus operators are struggling to find bus drivers.”
“Very few respondents said they didn’t have a driver shortage issue,” he added. “The bulk of those taking the survey said they were down between 6 percent to 15 percent. That’s a sizable shortage that districts are working to overcome to transport students safely and on time every day. And we know the school bus is the safest form of transportation available to students.”
That 6- to 10-percent driver shortage accounted for 26 percent of the responses, followed closely at 25 percent by 11- to 15-percent shortages. Eleven percent of the companies said their driver shortages are greater than 20 percent, and 15 percent said they are short drivers between 16 and 20 percent.
Only 6 percent of respondents said they are not currently short drivers, and 17 percent said their shortage is between 1 and 5 percent.
NSTA is continuing to work with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on ways to ease the school bus driver shortage. For example, FMCSA granted states an optional waiver for the “under-the-hood” inspection skills test during the engine compartment component of pre-trip vehicle inspection skills testing required for commercial driver’s license applicants. NSTA said this waiver, which only extends through the end of March, “is an example where the CDL process can be streamlined, without any impact to safety.”
But some student transportation experts question what bearing the “under-the-hood” requirement has on the driver shortage. For example, George Horne, a certified master instructor for the Louisiana Department of Education, told School Transportation News that he advised the state’s Student Transportation Advisory Committee during member discussions to ignore the waiver option.
Horne, a retired superintendent at Jefferson Parish Public Schools who oversaw transportation as well as a former consultant and trainer for the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute, said he advised that the waiver is unlikely to attract a sizable number of new driver applicants, adding that properly pre-trained applicants rarely fail the inspection portion of skills tests.
Instead, he said applicants are more apt to shy away from becoming a driver out of fear of failing criminal background checks or alcohol and drug screening. He also noted that under-the-hood inspections are required during actual pre-trip inspections, and any applicants who are unable to physically perform thorough pre-trip inspections should not be allowed to transport students.
Related: Survey Indicates Colorado School Districts in Crisis with Driver Shortages
Related: Louisiana Bus Drivers Call Out Sick Amid High Gas Prices, Low Wages
Related: Virginia Parents Struggle to Pick Up Students Amid Severe School Bus Driver Shortage
Horne noted that the National Transportation Safety Board in response to the Dec. 12, 2017, school bus fire in Oakland, Iowa, that killed the school bus driver and a high school student rider, urged the governors of 39 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to ensure school bus driver applicants be required to pass pre-employment physical performance tests. Additionally, NTSB asked that school bus drivers be required to test at least annually to maintain their endorsement.
“I submit that if drivers are unable to inspect school buses,” they probably would not be able to pass reasonable physical performance tests,” Horne said.