School bus companies facing driver shortage because of COVID-19

School bus companies facing driver shortage because of COVID-19

PITTSBURGH — Each school year, bus companies already struggle for drivers, and this year they have an even bigger challenge.

Several bus companies told Channel 11 that they are hearing some of their drivers might not want to come back this year. The reason is twofold: health concerns and compensation.

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“A lot of our drivers use this as a part-time job after they’ve retired,” said Todd Campbell, of Campbell Bus Lines. “So, a lot of our drivers are in the range that is affected by COVID.” And they’re choosing to stay home for their health.

School bus companies are providing transportation to some districts that are doing a hybrid model. Kids only need rides four days a week, meaning drivers only get four days of work.

“Now our concern is what do we do if we can’t keep them consistently employed 5 days a week? Because that could be a problem. We’re going to lose more drivers,” said Mike Berk, executive director of the Pennsylvania School Bus Association. “In any given summer we lose drivers.”

John Risch, a site supervisor for W.L. Roenigk Bus Company, said his drivers depend on paychecks five days a week.

“Now all of a sudden, we’re telling you, you can come back to work but hey, we can only pay you for four days,” he said.

The kids are the ones who Risch thinks are going to feel the impact, especially in districts requiring strict social distancing on buses.

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“These plans that require one student per seat, every other seat, is going to provide a big challenge because we’re not going to be able to get all the kids to school, on time,” said Risch. “There are only so many buses and so many drivers to go around.”

Berk says right now, bus companies are waiting to see what the fallout from the four-day a week schedule will be. He’s reminding bus companies to be flexible if drivers come back but then decide they’re not comfortable.

On the other hand, he says parents may become more comfortable with kids going back to school, and more families could require busing.

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