America struggles with the school bus driver shortage
The combination of a school bus driver shortage and inadequate funding has never been as serious as it is this school year. In Virginia and other areas of the country some districts are adjusting school bell times and distance from school to ride in order to meet the available buses and funding. This indepth article from Schoolbus Fleet helps "nail-down" the issues and offers a nation of ideas on how to help solve them. Parents, school staff and the press taking the time to study this article will likely find themselves equipped to have a knowledgeable conversation with other adults. (jk)
|The School Bus Driver shortage!|
More drivers are leaving the proffession and fewer are signing up. Where have all the school bus drivers gone? And why?
By Steve Hirano
Editor/Associate Publisher with Schoolbus Fleet Magazine. First published by Schoolbus Fleet Magazine, original story title, CONTRACTORS STRUGGLE WITH DRIVER SHORTAGE, LOW RATE INCREASES published June/July 1999, Copyright ©1999, All Rights Reserved. Posted by permission from Schoolbus Fleet Magazine.
Schoolbus Fleet Magazine
The driver shortage continues to be a significant operational challenge for most school bus companies an unwelcome burden for an industry sector that is also experiencing intensified competition for contracts and meager annual rate increases. These findings, among others, are examined in SBF's exclusive contractor survey, published annually in the June/July issue.
The Nation - For the past several years, full-time job opportunities created by the
robust U.S. economy have limited the pool of applicants for school bus driving positions. School districts and contractors have responded by redoubling their recruitment and retention efforts, but the driver shortage has not dissipated.
According to the survey about 71 percent of the respondents report that they're experiencing a driver shortage.
"Because of the driver shortage, all management personnel are
driving," complained a contractor in Pennsylvania.
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And some believe the situation is only going to get worse.
When asked what they believe will be the biggest change in school
transportation in the 21st century, many respondents pointed to the hiring and licensing of drivers.
- "Tougher standards in the licensing of drivers," one New Jersey
- "Increased demand for qualified drivers," said a contractor based
- "Fewer drivers" was the simple but discouraging answer of a
The most pessimistic reply came from a New Hampshire contractor who believes that drivers will become "non-existent" in the next century.
The driver shortage certainly will challenge contractors in the coming
years, especially with increasing concerns about behavior problems aboard the
bus. The issue of personal safety, in the wake of the Littleton, Colo.,
massacre, also applies pressure to school bus companies trying to hire and
retain drivers. A New Jersey contractor ominously predicts the "death of a
school bus driver due to student violence."
New strategies needed
Some respondents believe that the industry will have to make some
concessions to alleviate the driver shortage.
- "To attract quality drivers, I believe we'll have to offer more
benefits for a part-time job," said a contractor in Wisconsin.
- A move to "full-time drivers" was mentioned by a New York contractor.
Another believes that bus monitors will become more common on school buses. These monitors could have dual roles to help drivers with behavior
management and to ensure that the children are buckled up. Yes, buckled up.
Many contractors believe that seat belts on all school buses will become a
mandate in the next century.
The driver shortage, notwithstanding, contractors are feeling other
pressures, too. Many believe that competition has heated up. Slightly
more than 44 percent of the respondents said that competition for contracts is "getting tougher." About half (51.5 percent) said that competition
"remains the same," while only 4.4 percent said that competition is
Respondents were not asked to specify how or why competition has increased, decreased or stayed the same, but many mentioned increased consolidation as an expected change in the next century. "Larger companies gobbling up the little ones" is how one respondent described it.
There's no doubt that school bus companies will continue to consolidate
in the next several years. But the effect of these mergers and acquisitions has been hard to pin down. In some cases it has reduced the competition.
For example, if a large company buys a smaller one that competed for
contracts in the same area, it has effectively reduced its competition.
However, assuming the large company has economies of scale that its smaller counterparts don't have, the small companies will have a harder time
competing for contracts on a dollar-for-service basis.
Increasing competition from state-funded agencies was also cited. A
Pennsylvania contractor said public agencies are bidding against private
contractors in his area. "This is becoming a serious issue and misuse of
taxpayers' funds," he said.
There is some hope for a more positive business climate, however. Many
contractors believe that an increasing number of school districts will
privatize their school transportation operations in the coming years, mainly
because of funding pressures.
- "The county will finally admit that contractors can operate more
cheaply, as we have proven," said a Maryland contractor.