Student transporters seeking clarity on new minimum training requirements to obtain a Class A and Class B commercial driver licenses don’t have much time to prepare, as the impending compliance date is Feb. 7. The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21, federal highway authorization and funding bill addresses two new components for training applicants, the Entry Level Driver Training (ELDT) and the Trainer Provider Registry (TPR).
“Only trainers that are listed on the Trainer Provider Registry and meet the criteria are able to train new drivers,” explained Jeff Cassell, president of the School Bus Safety Company.
To accomplish this, he continued, the location must be registered with the FMCSA before Feb. 7, which will then assign that location a unique TPR. The FMCSA website asks the name, address and other information, and it then provides a dozen questions to answer. When that is submitted, the unique TPR identification is generated.
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“Going forward, say you train John Doe to get his CDL, and he’s ready for licensing,” Cassell added. “You go back into FMCSA, key in your unique TPR number and John Doe’s information and submit it. That information is fed to each state’s website, so when John walks into the DMV he is able to get his license.” The other part of MAP-21 are the new items to be covered with entry level drivers. “I compared the 303 separate practices listed and identified 26 that were not previously required,” Cassell relayed.
He added those new practices to training modules he created, which he said take about an hour to complete. Cassell concluded that much of the new requirements were confusing, in that the laws were written to apply to dump trucks, UPS trucks and many other vehicles.
“The listing of what practices to teach don’t specify how long or what to teach, they just say, ‘You shall teach it’,” he said. “For instance, I never taught where or when to fuel, but it’s in the supplement now. Hours of service are extremely important in the trucking world, not as much with school buses, but we teach that now as well.”
He explained that some of the requirements now included that aren’t as important to the pupil transportation industry include proper cargo securement, fuel economy from using a proper shifting technique, and coupling/uncoupling.
“I’ll be honest,” Cassell continued, “some of material isn’t that important because it doesn’t apply to school bus operations. The FMSCA’s reasoning is that if you have that CDL for a school bus, you can go drive other Class B vehicles, so trainees should know these things just in case.”
He did note that many of the regulations include the phrase “as applicable,” meaning one could logically avoid teaching coupling/uncoupling, for instance. But confusion enters the picture when “as applicable” is not attached to other rules.
“Causes of jackknifing does not say ‘as applicable,’” Cassell observed. “I think FMCSA wants trainers to make a really good effort in teaching, so I think what a small operation should do is look at the 303 practices and teach the new ones you don’t already.”
In Wyoming, Keith Chrans is not only the director of transportation for Campbell County School District but also president of the Wyoming State Pupil Transportation Association. “I think that the ELDT rules, as far as school districts are concerned, are really a formalization of what we already do,” he noted. “Most districts have a very detailed training program because we don’t want drivers out there who aren’t fully trained. Now, the entry-level training has been redefined so that you can’t just train applicants to a school bus, they have to be trained to the other types of Class B.”
Chrans said that Wyoming’s state committee recently reviewed the new ELDT requirements and discovered that the new pieces that were added only amounted to about 10-percent of the material. “We already had most of those details in place,” Chrans said. “We plugged them back into our training programs.”
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Would School Bus Only License Attract More Applicants?
But despite FMCSA’s intent, the school bus industry doesn’t want its would-be or current drivers for that matter leaving for other modes of transportation. Perhaps one answer is making the licensing process easier and faster by creating a separate school bus license. Changing that law is a federal matter that could take years, but there are ways that states can speed up the process and encourage candidates to get behind the wheel.
In September, Rep. Joe Morelle of New York wrote Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg asking him to do just that.Morelle’s letter specifically suggested waiving the current CDL requirements for school bus drivers to help ease the driver shortages and urged the pursuit of a new school bus specific license that would waive the repair-oriented vehicle inspection requirements.
When asked about his opinion of a school bus specific license, Chrans in Wyoming said he doesn’t see it as a bad idea. “But it’s tailored so closely to a Class B that there wouldn’t be much difference. I could see streamlining the process by incorporating the testing so you wouldn’t need a passenger endorsement, air brake endorsement, it would be all inclusive to that license. As long as we don’t lose the safety of training to the type of vehicle that we’re driving.”
He added that a positive aspect of a school bus specific license is it may deter applicants who are costing the district thousands of dollars in training only to up and leave for another employer once they receive their Class B license.
Dave Christopher, president of the New York Association for Pupil Transportation (NYAPT), noted that agencies are putting their minds together and stepping up to the challenge of recruiting new school bus drivers.
“Student management is definitely part of the reason why people aren’t applying, along with the fact that it is much easier to get other driving jobs with Amazon, Uber, or UPS, where they can make more money and not worry about student discipline issues,” Christopher said. “Driving students has a significantly higher level of responsibility.
“I do think the pandemic has caused many people to realize the importance of this job in the community. We’re putting information out to our legislators to advocate for us and working with the FMCSA to have a separate school bus license. It’s a slow process, but we’ll keep promoting systemic changes in the industry.”
Christopher also explained that New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has made significant changes to facilitate obtaining a license and help schools find drivers.
“During the pandemic, many drivers found other jobs,” Christopher said. “The state sent out a survey to CDL license holders asking if they were interested in driving a school bus.”
The 550,000 responses that came back were forwarded to local schools, so they could follow up with those potential employees, he added. Additionally, the state waived the 14-day wait period between the written test and the road test. New sites for road tests also include the state thruway authority, the New York Racing Association, and state universities.
Additionally, the FMCSA on Sept. 1 granted states the option of waiving the 14-day waiting period between passing the CDL written exam, and taking the driving test, under the COVID-19 Extension and Amendment of Emergency Declaration No. 2020-002 Under 49 CFR § 390.25.
Wyoming’s Chrans also spoke of eliminating the 14- day waiting period between the written and skills test of the licensing procedure. “I could understand having maybe a seven-day waiting period, if someone were upgrading their license,” he said. “Having those behind the wheel skills, like turning corners in a large vehicle takes time to learn.”
Meanwhile, Christopher also relayed that the DMV in Monroe County, New York stepped up to help the local Rochester City School District, which had to cancel the first few days of school in September while addressing transportation issues related to the driver shortage. The county DMV now sets aside certain days exclusively for school bus driver permit tests. If an organization has a few people to test at once, they’ll even provide paper tests to those groups.
He added that NYAPT is also working toward implementing a tax credit for school bus drivers. “Teachers have this tax credit advantage, so why shouldn’t bus drivers? Also, eliminating the earnings cap for retirees that want to come back may help get drivers behind the wheel,” Christopher said. “Driving a school bus is the most regulated job in the district,” “It’s a professional position and should be treated as such.”
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Corey Muirhead, executive vice president of Logan Bus Company and president of the New York School Bus Contractors Association, agreed.
“I think the profession got taken for granted until the pandemic made the public aware of how important the job is. Who drives your children to school is an important part of the community,” Muirhead said. “I’ve reached out to retired [firefighters]1 and other people who hold CDLs. They’re civic minded. They are stakeholders in the community. They may come to me and say, ‘I only have an hour a day’, but they have the necessary requirements, so they are welcome to come and drive. I’ve always said this is a recession-proof industry; now I add that it isn’t a pandemic-proof industry.”
He added that he is in favor of a specific license if it helps attract more driver applicants. “Why have a cumbersome process that intimidates applicants? It’s difficult enough. We’re not truckers,” Muirhead said, adding that one way to speed up the process is to allow for third-party testing.
“Pennsylvania and New Jersey allow it,” he continued. “I have people who are 19A [school bus driver instructors] who do our regular testing in house, but we aren’t allowed to do third-party testing, which would really speed up the process of getting drivers on the road.”
Meanwhile, Curt Macysyn, executive director of the National School Transportation Association, said the issue of a separate school bus license has been bandied about the industry for years.
“We’ve been in conversations with the FMCSA about certain parts of the CDL that are geared toward long haul truck drivers. Those parts of the test can be intimidating for many potential school bus driver candidates, especially since they are never going to leave the bus to repair it along the side of the road. The truck driving requirements aren’t aligned with our role as school bus operators. Removal of those requirements wouldn’t cause a loss of safety to students or the motoring public.”
Macysyn noted significant support in Congress, and there were meetings with FMSCA in early October. “They’ve been reviewing modernization of their regulations,” Macysyn said. “They understand our plight and want to help.”
Since 1986, FMCSA has regulated commercial licensing. “Safety is the U.S. Department of Transportation’s and FMCSA’s highest priority,” commented spokesman Duane DeBruyne. “Creating a new school bus only license category would have to be completed through the federal rulemaking process, which cannot be completed short-term. To create a new school bus specific license, evidentiary material obtained through research studies providing factual data that the same level of safety would be achieved would be needed.”
He added that the standalone CDL would limit the license holder to strictly operating school buses only, as opposed to a Class B license, which allows a broader range of work across the industry.
DeBruyne also mentioned that FMCSA is currently conducting a pilot program in Maryland, New Hampshire and Virginia to modernize the CDL skills test. The primary goal of the program is to improve efficiencies, making it swifter for all commercial learner permit holders to obtain their CDL. And it address some of the technical and mechanical testing requirements that bus officials have asked to be reconsidered.
“The emphasis is on road safety conduct, and less on memorization not directly tied with road safety,” DeBruyne said. “At this early phase of the pilot program, it would be scientifically inappropriate to suggest any hint of conclusiveness of the finding results.”
Editor’s Note: As reprinted in the November 2021 issue of School Transportation News.
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