Hochul launches push for more school bus drivers amid national shortage

A driver wearing a protective mask drives a school bus during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Brooklyn borough of New York City
Tomás Fret, president and business agent for ATU Local 1181-1061, told amNewYork Metro on Thursday, Sept. 21 that agreements have been reached for a five-year contract with a majority of the school bus companies.
REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

Governor Kathy Hochul is stepping up the state’s efforts to hire school bus drivers to tackle a national shortage of operators related to the COVID-19 pandemic as kids return to in-person classes.

The state’s chief executive has directed the Department of Motor Vehicles to speed up the process for obtaining a commercial driver’s licenses needed to drive the yellow buses, including cutting a two-week waiting period between the permit test and road test, and adding capacity to both exams.

“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 Sunday.

Hochul is also working with other arms of the state to use large lots for more road tests, such as SUNY, the Thruway Authority, the New York Racing Association, and the Office of General Services.

The governor’s office will reach out to more than half a million commercial driver’s license holders in the Empire State to encourage them to become school bus drivers and connect them with local school districts.

That includes unemployed drivers contacted through the Department of Labor and contacts at law enforcement agencies, firefighters, military, and other organizations that have trained drivers.

An August report by three trade associations for school bus drivers found a shortage of drivers across the country, including 51% of respondents to the survey describing their lack of operators as “severe” or “desperate,” and 78% saying it was getting worse. 

In New York State that deficit is around 15-20%, according to the New York Association for Pupil Transportation, and the trade group’s executive director David Christopher estimated that school districts need to hire another 7,500 drivers to get back to normal. 

“Governor Hochul’s swift and comprehensive action is a tremendous start to assisting school districts and private school transportation contractors in addressing the school bus driver shortage,” said Christopher in a statement. “The Governor’s proactive measures and policy changes pertaining to school bus driver permitting and CDL testing are exactly what school districts and private school transportation operators needed to help us ensure we can safely transport the nearly 2.3 million children who ride a school bus each day.”

During the pandemic, many of the school bus industry’s aging operators lost work, declined to drive for fear of contracting the virus, or used their commercial driver’s license to pivoted to the booming package delivery industry.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office has denied the dearth of workers, but there have been reports of stranded pupils in the city as public schools reopened last week.