Ongoing bus driver shortage | News, Sports, Jobs

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By Walt Frank

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As the start of the 2021-2022 school year approaches, a driver shortage is jeopardizing Pennsylvania’s ability to get its 1.5 million students to and from school, sporting events and activities.

According to local bus contractors, the shortage of drivers is an ongoing problem and has worsened since the pandemic.

“Over the past few years the shortage has been severe, but since COVID it has reached critical status for us as well as for most contractors in the state,” said Shae Harkleroad, owner of Raystown Transit Service.

Raystown Transit Service serves three public school districts as well as several private schools in Blair, Huntingdon and Center counties.

Altoona area school district spokeswoman Paula Foreman said the district contracts with Student Transportation of America and the district is also experiencing a shortage of drivers, like many other districts.

“COVID has played a big role in the shortage for various reasons, and the reality is that it is more lucrative for some people to continue to collect unemployment” said Foreman.

There are other reasons for the driver shortage, however, said partner Mort Snider of Port Matilda-based Beckwith Busing.

“It’s because of the education and training they need” Snider said. “Dealing with children is more difficult these days; it’s a big problem.

Drivers are required to have 20 hours of schooling and permits, Snider said, and they must pass a driving test. They must also pass a physical exam each year.

Snider said Beckwith has been in business for 67 years and the company is picky about its drivers.

“We have had people whom we have refused” Snider said. “If you have a DUI, you are done. You need a clean driving record and must pass a drug test. We do random testing four times a year.

Raystown and Beckwith both serve the Tyrone Area School District, where Superintendent Leslie Estep said business owners have a good working relationship and help each other cover routes when needed and if they need to. can.

“I know both companies are actively trying to recruit additional drivers and are doing what they can to work with current and potential drivers around other work schedules in order to maintain their jobs.” said Estep.

“We have drivers who replace each other” Snider said. “Today, we have to work together. I also help other school districts.

In an effort to address the driver shortage, the Pennsylvania School Bus Association has launched a statewide recruiting campaign to raise awareness of the shortage and provide a number of resources that can be used to recruit drivers. new school bus drivers.

Harkelroad praised the AOSP for being proactive in its efforts to find drivers.

“The Pennsylvania School Bus Association is one of the strongest bus associations in the country and recognized at the start of the shutdown that this was going to be a challenge we would all face soon,” Harkleroad said.

While the AOSP initiative is a plus, Harkleroad said the best method of recruiting for the company is word of mouth. Steal a “We hire” flag at the Bellwood facility also helped, Harkleroad said.

Raystown Transit and Beckwith Busing need more drivers for the next school year.

“We make 24 school bus trips a day and so far we are missing three drivers to start school in just over a month. We also make 24 to 30 van trips every year and we are currently short of three or four drivers there as well ”, Harkleroad said of Raystown Transit.

Snider said Beckwith Busing currently only has one down rider.

“Driving a bus can be a great job for moms, grandparents, and people who need flexibility. “ said Foreman.

“The schedule follows the school schedule, so when the children are on leave, the drivers are too” she said, noting that STA is providing all the necessary training and is currently looking to hire 12 bus drivers and six van drivers for the next school year.

At the heart of the AOSP campaign is a website – YouBehindTheWheel.com – featuring a job portal that connects interested people with driver positions in their backyards. Those who want to learn more about how to become a school bus driver are welcome to visit the website.

“We are proud that during the pandemic, school bus drivers stayed at work, facing various types of schedules and working as full partners with our school districts.” Said Aaron Sepkowski, Second Vice President of APSA and Chairman of the Membership Committee. “Our Membership Committee had this fabulous vision two years ago that our members would benefit from a driver recruitment campaign. Our members are working hard to ensure the bus driver’s seat is filled as we plan a full program of schools and activities this fall.

Mirror staff writer Walt Frank is at 814-946-7467.

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