Massachusetts has had a shortage of school bus drivers, and it isn’t slowing down as classes get underground.
“I really feel like it stems from the very beginning of the pandemic,” said Sheila Morse, manager of the Duxbury branch of the First Student Bus Co., which covers towns on the South Shore.
“A lot of kids started taking classes from home, and some enrolled in home-school classes,” Morse said. “That left a lot of bus drivers with no jobs. Those drivers needed new jobs, so when other things opened up, they went somewhere else.”
She said bus companies are trying to find new employees, but that’s not easy.
“It’s a good three-and-a-half-month process before people can earn their (CDL) license,” Morse said. “They need 60 hours behind the wheel before they can drive.”
More:What is a CDL license?
School Transportation Association of Massachusetts Executive Director Tom Hamilton said the shortage has existed for a long time.
“I feel like there’s always a shortage of drivers,” Hamilton said. “It’s just gotten worse since the pandemic. There’s an inconsistency to the job as it is, and when the pandemic hit, a lot of drivers found other jobs.”
He said drivers had opportunities to use their CDL licenses with companies that offer much more consistent jobs than being a school bus driver.
“It’s a competitive market,” Hamilton said. “But we are aggressively trying to fill the shortages that now exist.”
Typically, bus driver positions are filled by veterans, retired police officers and even retired teachers, he said.
Near the end of the last school year, sports teams were affected by the shortage.
More:School bus driver shortage affecting Massachusetts sports
“Buses would sometimes be late in the past, but never to this degree,” Dover-Sherborn Athletic Director Emily Sullivan said in May. “A late bus would be 15 minutes late and it would be rare. Now it is an hour late, happening to multiple buses a day, and every day.”
“After all the obstacles our student-athletes have overcome the last few years in order to just have the opportunity to play, now they are faced with this,” Ashland High School Athletic Director Stephen Marks said last spring. “It is just unfortunate all around. The domino effect is huge.”
Last fall, Gov. Charlie Baker activated the National Guard to help local communities with school transportation. There are no immediate plans to take similar steps.
There are nearly 55,000 fewer K-12 bus drivers nationwide than two years ago when the pandemic started, USA Today reported.
Hamilton said the School Transportation Association of Massachusetts deals with 41 bus companies and “handles the legislature when it comes to lobbying for changes” in driving regulations. That includes advocating for seat belts on school buses and for “cameras to be installed on the stop-sign arms on buses” to enforce laws.
Material from a Wicked Local article by Tim Whelan Jr. was used in this report.