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Hochul announces plan to address school bus driver shortage 

Buses operated by Suffolk Transportation Service in Bay

Buses operated by Suffolk Transportation Service in Bay Shore in 2020. Credit: Chris Ware

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Sunday announced new efforts to recruit school bus drivers in New York to address a statewide staffing shortage.

The plan includes shortening the commercial driver’s license application process and reaching out to the more than 550,000 people in New York who already hold CDLs to recruit them to become bus drivers, according to a news release.

For new applicants, the state Department of Motor Vehicles will remove a 14-day waiting period between permit test and road test to expedite the CDL process. It will also offer additional written and road test opportunities.

The state Department of Labor will target currently unemployed drivers, as well.

"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. "While the shortage of school bus drivers is not unique to New York State, I have directed state agencies to utilize creative approaches and use every tool at their disposal to help districts affected by the bus driver shortage, so we can bring in as many qualified bus drivers as possible as quickly as possible."

The New York Association for Pupil Transportation, a school transportation professional group, estimates New York is about 7,500 drivers short of its usual 54,000. David Christopher, the group's executive director, called the initiative a "tremendous start" in addressing the issue.

The shortage of bus drivers is complicating the start of a school year nationwide already besieged by the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19, contentious disagreement over masking requirements, and the challenge of catching up on educational ground lost as the pandemic raged last year.

Other states are also seeking alternatives in the wake of the shortage. Schools across the United States are offering hiring bonuses, providing the training needed to get a commercial driver's license and increasing hourly pay to attract more drivers. A Delaware school district offered to pay parents $700 to take care of their own transportation, and a Pittsburgh district delayed the start of classes and said hundreds more children would have to walk to school. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker last week activated the state's National Guard to help transport school children.

Corey Muirhead, president of the New York School Bus Contractors Association, said the changes offered meaningful reform to the process. The organization, which represents private school-bus contractors making up 60% of the school bus market, estimates staffing levels are down 15% to 20% statewide.

"We are hoping this open dialogue will continue as we progress through the school year," Muirhead said in a statement. "We look forward to continuing working with the Governor to support her short-term steps to get children safely to and from school and long-term strategies to help the industry recruit and retain school bus drivers."

Those interested can visit the DMV’s website to learn how to get an CDL "S," or school bus, endorsement. Interested drivers will be surveyed and their information shared with school districts which are seeking drivers, Hochul said.

With AP

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