Township of Bristol. Schools and transport contractors fight against the lack of drivers

School buses lined up at a Pennsylvania depot.

Parents in the Bristol Township School District know full well that there is a shortage of bus drivers. Since school started just weeks ago, the district has had to cancel bus trips and others have been delayed due to the shortage.

Dan Fiorilli, regional general manager of STA of Pennsylvania Inc., the district’s bus contractor, said this week that the Bristol Township School District is doing better than some places, but agrees that more drivers are needed.

“We understand it’s not perfect right now,” Fiorilli said.

STA runs about half of the district’s buses, while the district runs the other half. Between the two, there are 61 drivers and 29 van drivers to cover 100 trips.

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The district and the STA are bound by a $22.8 million contract that runs from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2025.

Fiorilli said STA and the district have worked hard to get drivers into open driver positions, but it’s difficult.

A recent survey by school bus service provider HopSkipDrive found that 88% of schools are experiencing a shortage of bus drivers.

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PennDOT, the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the Pennsylvania School Bus Association have been working together since last year to get more bus drivers on the road. They reached out to 375,000 CDL-certified people and launched a recruiting campaign.

“While we strive to ensure that students in all areas – rural, urban and suburban – have access to high quality education, we must also provide access to safe and reliable transportation to and from the school,” the acting education secretary said. Eric Hagarty. “School bus drivers are essential in this mission, and PDE is committed to supporting this industry as it strives to recruit people for the workforce.”

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The HopSkipDrive survey found getting people to drive was a bigger agenda than pay, pensions and COVID-19 in a tight labor market that has seen low unemployment.

Pupils learn about bus safety outside Brookwood Elementary School in Bristol Township in October 2020.
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In Bristol Township, Fiorilli said STA and the district have seen this issue.

” It’s everywhere. Everyone has the same problem,” Fiorilli said.

“We just don’t have enough people interested in driving,” he added.

For example, in March, 118 people applied for open bus driver positions, six confirmed their training, four showed up for classes, and one obtained the necessary training and the CDL license needed to drive buses. In May, five out of 119 candidates showed up for the course and none finished.

Some of those who get a CDL, with training paid for by the STA, jump quickly to drive garbage trucks or other driving jobs, Fiorilli said.

He noted that the nature of part-time work can make it difficult to retain drivers when there are plenty of full-time jobs for CDL drivers.

STA pays nearly $20 per hour and a $2,500 signing bonus to new drivers, which is comparable to other bus operations.

The STA official said the company had clauses in the contract to stop people leaving right after they got their CDL, but that was getting expensive to enforce and not working.

Fiorilli said drivers don’t just need to get their CDL, which scares off some applicants. Drivers must also pass criminal and abuse background checks, a driver background review, and drug screening. They also need a doctor’s visit, training hours, state-required permits, and 40 hours of driving lessons.

Due to the lack of drivers, the district and STA have doubled up runs and combined routes, while also working on schedules to get students to sporting events.

Fiorilli said transportation office staff and dispatchers often had to get behind the wheel to get directions.

“How do you trap 10 books of Bologna in a 5-pound bag? ” He asked.

STA has invested $32,227 so far this school year in promoting open driver jobs.

“We do what we can do,” he said. “We apologize to the parents.”

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