A decline in the number of licensed school bus drivers statewide has some districts scrambling to get students to and from school, a situation that has gotten "progressively worse," according to Mike Berk, executive director of the Pennsylvania School Bus Association, which represents companies that provide districts with busing services.
In the West Chester Area School District outside Philadelphia, 12 of the district's 192 routes don't have permanent drivers, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Some drivers have had to double up on runs, forcing students to spend twice as much time on the bus.
"We've received more complaints this year than we have in the past," said Joanne Yarnall, West Chester's transportation manager.
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She and others attribute the shortage to a strong economy in which potential drivers have plenty of other job options.
"Typically in this industry, if the economy is in the toilet, we have enough drivers," said Yarnall. "Part-time work is better than no work."
Council Rock, another suburban Philadelphia district, has reported shortages of as many as 25 drivers a day for its 150 buses. Its bus contractor, First Student, has been offering sign-on bonuses of $1,000 in hopes of luring drivers.
Another contractor, Krapf, has been paying drivers to get trained. Krapf's Shawn McGlinchey said there is an "acute shortage" of drivers, with managers stepping in to drive.
Nationally, 24% of school districts reported "desperate" or "severe" driver shortages in a survey by School Bus Fleet, an industry trade publication.
Statewide, the number of licensed school bus drivers has declined from 46,000 in 2013 to 44,000 last year.
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