Why The School Bus Industry Is Getting The Worst Of The Driver Shortage

Earlier this week we saw;

Wow!

There was a driver shortage well before COVID, but the pandemic has accelerated and exacerbated the situation tenfold. Every bus company is short-staffed, but why are school bus companies getting the worst of it?

 

No Room For Career Growth

Driving a school bus is not a career for 95% of the population, It’s a short-term job. Most drivers don’t pursue school bus opportunities because it promises a long-term career with great pay,benefits, and full retirement. In reality it’s the exact opposite.

For those who are looking to have a career as a bus driver, school buses are a great entry point, quick money, and relatively easy work.

What they lack are stability, long-term employment, and a wage increase system.

In short, driving a school bus is a dead-end job for most drivers.

You don’t get paid when school is out, unemployment becomes an active part of your employment and there’s no progressive system of advancement or promotion. This isn’t comparable to teachers who work for the same schools. Teachers can expand their profession to colleges, universities, private institutions, and even online.

When you’re a school bus driver, you are just that….a school bus driver.

Absence of Contractors and The Self-Employed

Most industries are filled with a combination of big companies and independent contractors.

For every major hospital, there is a private practice. For every big law firm, there are independent lawyers. For every 23 story business hub, there’s someone who runs a business from home.

For school drivers, no such model exists.

Due to procurement and unions having strict guidelines forbidding subcontracting, independent contractors like myself can’t drive or staff drivers to companies in need. Most procurement agreements outline a very specific way things must be done. Pointless requirements that drivers must meet, making things as simple as a job title over complexed and micromanaged.

The job title of “Bus Driver” brings a negative stigma in today’s world, it’s one of the reasons we call transit drivers professional bus operators.

Under school bus contractual terms, you are a school bus driver,+ that’s it, cut and dry.

Too Many People on The Elevator

While finding drivers presents major difficulties, keeping them is an entirely different animal, because as a driver there are too many similar options.  This creates a Wild Wild West of sorts.

 In certain areas, you can end up with 5 to 10 companies all offering the same thing with the exception being small changes in wages. The same hours, same buses, same company infrastructure. 

There’s no clear competitive advantage when it comes to retaining drivers. Again this is a result of procurement and government-based contracts. It’s extremely difficult for some companies to set themselves apart from their competition because they all have to play by the same rules.

In the grand scheme of things, a 50 cent per hour raise or decrease only equates to a difference of $9 per paycheck.

You can’t buy retention with that.

No Flexibility In Hours

School buses service schools, right?

This means that drivers are preparing for their route,  while you are getting your kids up and ready for the school day.

The question is, who gets the bus driver’s kids ready?

The babysitter? The nanny? A family member, which one?

You tell me.

Do you know how hard it is to find a nanny at 5 am?

School buses typically have fixed hours that directly conflict  parents’ schedules for their own kids.

The reality is….. bus transportation in general, was built and thrived in a time where two-parent homes were much more common and the economy was much different. It was at its peak in an era where one could drive a school bus and still sustain a decent quality of life.

That is no longer the case.

While some school bus companies offer a “bring your child to work” benefit, this doesn’t answer the question of who’s taking my kids to school.

Being a bus driver in general, has a specific type of employee profile that can actually excel in this business.

 Unfortunately, that profile does not align with the majority of applicable drivers in 2022.

Location

In the simplest terms, most school bus drivers cannot afford to live in the rural and suburban areas they serve. Not to mention,   locals in that community aren’t typically bus drivers. This means that being a school bus driver typically comes with a lengthy commute which can turn a lot of drivers off.

However, this is where the solution lies.

Employing the locals.

By going into communities and giving the locals the necessary education and resources, school bus companies can sustain operations by building a sense of charge and responsibility to the communities it serves, to help with our kids.

The old cliche is it takes a village to raise a child, and that statement couldn’t be more true. As a local of the CloverLeaf community here in Glen Burnie, I’d gladly work alongside our HOA, other parents, and our local schools to do my part in making sure our kids get to school.

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