Bus driver shortage leads to fewer bus routes, more seat time for kids
A shortage in bus drivers means the school district is juggling between available transportation options, said Rob Lech, superintendent of Jamestown Public Schools. In a typical year, buses are used for most activities.
A shortage of bus drivers for the Jamestown Public School District has led to fewer bus routes, meaning more seat time for students, according to Rob Lech, superintendent of Jamestown Public Schools.
He said the school buses are at maximum capacity.
“That is concerning for us because common sense will tell you in the winter season more students are going to ride because fewer can walk to school,” he said.
The capacity of a full-size school bus is 77, said Brian Yanish, general manager of Dietrich Bus Service, which provides school buses and drivers to multiple school districts.
“That’s if we have three people in every seat and compartmentalization is still intact and you can fit everyone in a seat, you could fit 77,” he said.
When older students are on the bus, the capacity is about 55 people because only two people can fit in a seat.
“Right now we are maxing out our 65 and 77 capacities,” he said. “So we are running anywhere from 45 to 55 kids in these buses.”
The school district normally has 11 bus routes, but there are only nine because of the shortage of bus drivers, Yanish said. He said having an extra two or three bus drivers is critical for the short-term future.
“Ideally that number would be five to six more people and that would allow us to have some flexibility, substitutions and availability to accommodate the activity schedule,” he said.
Some bus drivers retired or moved on to a different occupation, he said. He said there has not been much interest in people applying to be a bus driver.
“In the past we’ve had people retire, we have new ones come on,” he said.
Usually in a year, Dietrich will hire anywhere from two to five bus drivers per year for the Jamestown Public School District. He said two have been added this year but it does not outweigh the number of retirements or individuals who moved.
“We are running in the red as far as drivers are concerned,” he said. “It’s a challenge not just for Jamestown, not just for the region, everywhere across the country there are school districts dealing with it. We are pleading with the community, if you have time, if you have availability, step up and help us out because right now it’s directly affecting the ridership of the students in the school district.”
A shortage in bus drivers means the school district is juggling between available transportation options, Lech said. In a typical year, buses are used for most activities.
He said the school district has purchased activity vans in the past and they are getting used more. He said the other option that could become more necessary for the school district to consider is asking parents to drive in an emergency situation if the district does not have any transportation options available.
“We also have to think about do we just need to postpone and cancel,” he said.
The only option is to postpone or cancel if the school district does not have any option that is reasonable to attend an away event, he said. A basketball trip to Minot was canceled because one bus was out of service with Neis Services Inc. in Edgeley, N.D. Dietrich did not have any buses available and the school district’s activity vans were committed.
“It was so late in the day that organizing parents became a bit of a liability,” Lech said. “The only option we had left at that time was to postpone. … If we had more drivers available in the pool, that wouldn’t be an outcome. It’s already unlikely, but would it be more unlikely to happen because we would have the ability to either use one of the two contractors that we use.”
He said another option is to rent vehicles but even that is a challenge because the rentals have not been available either.
The bus driver shortage is not a “help wanted” or “help needed” situation, but it is a “critical need,” Lech said.
“We just really need more folks to be willing to take on driving for the district and that comes with routes and it comes with activity driving,” he said.
He said the school district and Dietrich have talked about the shortage of bus drivers for a number of years. He said the issue is reaching the point where the school district is making sure it supports its bus contractors and does whatever it can to help encourage people to apply to be a bus driver.
“I think it is more of an issue of people not understanding how impactful that is for our kids, whether it is getting to school or getting home or whether it is activities,” Lech said.
Because there is no interest in people driving buses, Dietrich has tried direct marketing, sending letters home to parents, different advertising avenues and social media, Yanish said.
“It’s not a Dietrich Bus problem; it’s not a Jamestown Public Schools problem; this is a regional and a national problem trying to attract bus drivers,” he said.
Yanish said Dietrich has staff members who will help anyone obtain the proper CDL and endorsements that are needed. He said that involves getting a permit for a Class B license and passenger and school bus endorsements.
“The kind of process is you take a written test and receive the permits for those, all while getting training from us to be prepared to do that,” he said. “After receiving the permits, you must pass a pre-trip inspection test and a driving test in the school bus and we do all the training for that.”
He said it takes about four to six weeks to get the required license and endorsements.