Hochul announces plan to address school bus driver shortage

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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York is taking steps to address a mounting shortage of school bus drivers across the state.

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Sunday announced several short-term and long-term initiatives, including opening up new testing sites for commercial drivers license applicants, expediting the testing and permitting process and conducting outreach to law enforcement, firefighters, military and other organizations that already have trained drivers.

A study by the New York Association for Pupil Transportation two years ago found that eight in 10 school transportation directors considered driver shortages a major concern, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem.

A lack of drivers can lead to delayed departures and arrivals and the cancellation of field trips and other extracurricular activities.

“Our schools and public health officials have moved mountains to ensure our children receive an in-person education this year, and we are leaving no stone unturned to make sure schools have adequate bus service to bring students to school and back,” Hochul said in a statement.

The state is reaching out to more than half a million existing commercial drivers license holders in the state, including those who are currently unemployed, Hochul said. The Department of Motor Vehicles will remove the 14-day waiting period between permit test and road test, and county-run DMV facilities will increase capacity to administer the written and road tests.

School staff who hold a commercial license will be able to obtain a permit to drive vans and buses temporarily. Hochul also urged school districts to use incentives such as signing and retention bonuses to hire and keep bus drivers, and said federal funds can be used for those purposes.