Bus-driver shortage causing long delays

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By Hannah Strong

The Lancaster County School District is experiencing its worst bus-driver shortage in 25 years, and the resulting double routes are causing some students to arrive home 45 minutes later than normal.
Transportation Director Bryan Vaughn said he believes the problem stems from the split-shift schedule and the tough requirements for becoming a bus driver.
“I don’t think the general public understands what it takes to be a bus driver,” Vaughn said.
Finding drivers isn’t as easy as it once was when the state allowed students to get behind the big wheel.
The school district requires candidates to pass a pre-employment drug test, background check, physical, physical preparedness test, pre-trip inspection skills course and road test, pass three written tests to get a commercial drivers license, complete a 20-hour training course and do 10 hours of training behind the wheel.
Drivers’ split shift runs in the morning from 5:45-8:30 and in the afternoon from 1:30 until about 5.
When you consider those requirements, “it creates a massive shortage,” Vaughn said.
LCSD bus drivers make on average $12 an hour. Top wages are $14.02, bottom are $10.07.
Vaughn said hourly rates went up a couple of dollars a few years ago.
Asked if hourly rates were the issue in recruiting drivers, Vaughn said the pay scale might be something the district needs to revisit.
Vaughn said the average turnover is about three years with today’s workforce, or recent hires, though the district has several drivers who have worked for more than 30 years.
Thirty people went through the district’s paid training this summer, and only two people passed all of the requirements, Vaughn said.
The district has 73 bus drivers and is in need of nine more, with three of those needed in the Indian Land area.
The shortage of nine drivers has caused some of the district’s drivers to take double routes, especially in the afternoon when the number of riders is higher. Students on the second route of the afternoon are getting home about 45 minutes later than normal.
Vaughn noted that finding substitute bus drivers isn’t a matter of just bringing someone in for the day, like a teacher substitute.
“If a bus driver is sick, you have to put another certified driver in place,” Vaughn said. “There’s very few of those.”
The average Lancaster County bus driver is over 50 years old and has driven a bus for 12 years. This fact could create an even larger shortage in the future.
“A lot of drivers are getting to retirement age,” Vaughn said. “We’ve got to be able to replace those drivers.”

Is there a solution?
LCSD offers incentives for its bus drivers and also pays new drivers’ training.
“We’ve done some things to try and be creative, but it’s still difficult,” Vaughn said.
A $500 attendance bonus is given to drivers who don’t miss any days.
Vaughn said about 50 percent of the district’s drivers will be getting that bonus this year.
As far as recruiting and retaining drivers, Vaughn said the district is going to look into combining driving jobs with other staff positions like 29-hour employees.
How to apply
To apply for a full-time bus driver position, visit https://www.applitrack.com/lcsd/onlineapp/ and search for bus driver in the search bar on the top, right-hand side of the page.
Drivers must be at least 18 years old, have had a valid driver’s license for at least one year and must not have more than four points against their driving record.

Follow reporter Hannah Strong on Twitter @HannahLStrong or contact her at (803) 416-8416.