School districts in the United States are struggling to find bus drivers.
In Minneapolis, the driver shortage has become so severe that school district officials are offering cash to parents willing to drive their children to class. “By doing this,” read a note to parents, “you will free up space on the bus for students who cannot provide their own transport.
In St. Paul and Grand Forks, North Dakota, MPR News Says story, schools have turned to commercial vehicles to fill the void.
School districts have historically struggled to recruit and retain drivers. Last year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many students remained in virtual learning, firing bus drivers to work. This fall, many will not return.
Several factors keep potential candidates away from school bus jobs, recent study finds national survey. First, these drivers can only count on five or six hours a day. Second, the process of obtaining a commercial driver’s license, which is required for school bus drivers, has taken applicants weeks, if not months, due to pandemic slowdowns. Third, even if workers get licensed, they can move on to driver jobs for companies like Amazon, Target, and Walmart, which offer better pay and more hours.
Sacad Guled, who runs a student transport company in the Twin Cities, has faced the problem of a shortage of drivers since the onset of the pandemic. His company, Coherent Trans inc., operates more than 50 yellow buses and minibuses that transport students to charter schools in the Twin Cities.
As part of our “Stories from the Pandemic” series, produced in partnership with Minnesota Transformation and the Center for Research on the History of Immigration at the University of Minnesota, Sahan Journal interviewed Sacad about the impact of the shortage on his business and what he is doing to respond to the crisis. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
The internet is inundated with stories about a nationwide shortage of school bus drivers. As the CEO of a student transport company, how do you meet the challenge?
Before the pandemic, if we wanted a driver, we would post the job online. It was a quick job description and a note saying, we hire. In a few hours, we would receive 10, 20 candidates for this position. Then we would choose the best candidate. It was so easy.
At the moment this is not the case. Few people respond to our job offers.
How has this affected the company’s workflow?
A lot. For example, I drive every day, even though I am the CEO of the company. I’m supposed to take on more important responsibilities. But here I am driving. I have an itinerary every morning. I go to the Brooklyn Center and pick up kids. I cannot find a suitable driver to fulfill my role.
Also, on a few occasions, we had to call partner schools and tell them that we were running out of drivers and that it would take a little longer to pick up the children. Some of our drivers now have to make multiple trips. Like, they pick up and drop off a group. Then they come back and do the same with another group.
It was hard. Fortunately, the schools were very understanding. They know it’s a national problem, not just a problem for my business.
Parents are the ones who don’t understand. The school contacts them, and we contact them to explain the situation to them. They are like No, our children have to be in school. We can’t afford them to be late. And I don’t blame them because these parents don’t want their kids to miss breakfast. These are low income families who depend on schools for meals.
Are you under contract with Minneapolis Public Schools? What is the ethnic makeup of the students you serve?
No, these are charter schools in Minneapolis. The majority of them are Somalis. But some schools have multiethnic populations. They have Latinos, African Americans, Ethiopians, Oromos.
What is contributing to the driver shortage?
Right now the transportation industry is really competitive. If someone wants to be a driver, they want to drive trucks and provide delivery services to companies like Amazon, Target, and Walmart, where they can make over $ 10,000 a month.
There was this driver that I tried to recruit. He told me: I earn $ 11,000 a month driving for Amazon. I go to Chicago three, four times a week. It’s 40 hours a week. Why would I settle for less?
These drivers are therefore paid a lot more than we can offer.
How much do you pay the drivers, if I may?
Their wages range from $ 23 to $ 25 an hour. Some yellow bus drivers earn up to $ 25 an hour. Those with less experience earn $ 23 an hour. Those who drive minivans can earn up to $ 15 an hour.
And what qualifications do bus drivers need to have?
You must have a clear criminal record. You must also have a good driving record. Beyond that, yellow bus drivers must have a commercial driver’s license for school buses.
What are you doing to recruit and retain workers?
We do several things to recruit and retain workers. First, and it’s not just when we face driver shortages, we’ve created an environment where employees have a voice, where they feel safe and where they feel heard.
Second, we offer free breakfast every morning. This includes things like bagels, muffins, coffee. We have a sophisticated cappuccino maker for people to make cappuccino, hot chocolate, etc.
Third, we offer each of our new employees a bonus of $ 1,000 if they work with us for three months or more. In addition, employees who refer drivers to us receive $ 500 for each referral.
Sometimes people don’t believe me when I say these things. A driver once asked me: So you’re telling me, if I bring four drivers, I’ll have $ 2,000? I told him, yes, as long as they work for three months or more.
The next morning he brought me two drivers.
I know school bus drivers don’t have the traditional 9-17 work schedule. They just drop the kids off in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon. This means that they have a few sabbaticals in the middle of the day. I wondered why people were always looking for these jobs.
Yes, school bus drivers have two shifts: the morning shift and the afternoon shift. In each shift, they work a total of about two and a half to three hours. Most drivers therefore work five, six hours a day.
What we have to do as a business is we have to pay them for the two hours that they are not working in order to make sure that they get eight hours a day. It’s the only way to hold them back, really.
However, for some drivers the idea of not working eight consecutive hours is appealing. The majority of people interested in these jobs are Uber / Lyft drivers, retirees, people who cannot work full time for some reason.