School transportation experts anticipating bus driver shortage

Emily Burkhard
Created: August 13, 2020 06:12 PM

ALBANY - Now that New York school districts are planning to re-open this fall, many are wondering how new safety measures will affect the ride to school.

NewsChannel 13 spoke with an expert from the New York State Association of Pupil Transportation to get some answers.


David Christopher, Executive Director of NYSAPT, said though New York on PAUSE sent students at home for the second half of the spring semester, bus drivers didn't stop working.

Many of them have been making regular trips to deliver supplies and meals to students. But, now that some students will be getting back on buses there are new safety and cleaning measures in place for drivers.

Christopher said districts are in the process of working out alternating schedules and staggered pickup times to accommodate social distancing. They're also coordinating training sessions on how to sanitize buses.

He said at this point it seems like the majority of drivers will be returning for this upcoming semester, but they could still see shortages. Christopher said most districts were short on substitute drivers, or full time drivers before the pandemic hit.

Recruitment and training efforts have continued since the pandemic began, but Christopher estimates anywhere from 10 to 40 percent of transportation staff statewide falls into the at risk category. That could impact the decision to return to work before a vaccine is widely available.

Some schools won't know exactly how many drivers they have until a mandatory New York State Education Department training session is held.

"Unfortunately you may not know until very close to the beginning of school opening of school whether or not they will come back,” Christopher said. “I think for the most part they know in general where they're at in terms of staffing, but we won't know hard and fast until probably very close to September."

So, who will take students to school if there aren't enough drivers? Christopher said there are other options.

"You have some full-time people organization managers, dispatchers, mechanics who may step up to drive,” Christopher said. “You may share with other school districts, you may rely on private contractors who may have some available drivers."

Christopher also believes rising unemployment rates could lead to more people applying for vacant driver positions.

"We are not sure that that's the case because the criteria and training to become a driver today is much more stringent than it was years ago when we had higher unemployment, but we're hopeful,” he said.

Prospective school bus drivers must pass a written exam for a commercial license permit. Training varies based on the person and the employer, but Christopher said anywhere from, 75 to 100 hours is standard before taking the CDL exam.

Stay tuned to NewsChannel 13 for updates on this story.

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