The three things causing school bus driver shortages

Chesterfield School bus.png
Posted at 2:40 PM, Aug 18, 2021

RICHMOND, Va. -- Chesterfield County schools caught the attention of many families on Monday when school leaders asked parents to drop their kids off at school when the new year begins in lieu of taking the bus because of bus driver shortages. However, Chesterfield schools aren't the only ones dealing with driver shortages.

Henrico County has 115 bus driver openings and other localities are also facing higher than normal shortages. As students head back into school buildings this fall in the greatest numbers since before the pandemic, a national shortage of bus drivers will impact the transportation planning for local school districts.

Health concerns related to COVID-19, vaccine hesitancy and enhanced unemployment benefits are all contributing to shortages nationally, according to the National School Bus Transportation Association.

Related: Local school districts ramp up hiring efforts for bus drivers, others

Local bus drivers speaking to CBS 6 off-camera echoed similar rationales for not returning to their school bus this fall. One driver who plans to stay on in the fall said they “don’t know how their district is going to do it” with staffing of routes stretched thin.

Here’s a breakdown of the number of bus driver vacancies and hourly starting rate for each public school district in the Richmond Metro:

  • CHESTERFIELD — ~100 vacancies; $17.21/hr
  • COLONIAL HEIGHTS — 8 vacancies; $14/hr
  • DINWIDDIE — 8-10 vacancies; $15/hr
  • HANOVER — 27 vacancies; $15.75/hr
  • HENRICO — 115 vacancies; $14.90/hr
  • HOPEWELL — 1 vacancy; $16.72
  • GOOCHLAND — Fully staffed; $18.65/hr
  • PETERSBURG — 6 vacancies; $15/hr
  • POWHATAN — Fully staffed, taking subs; $18.45/hr
  • PRINCE GEORGE — 1 vacancy; $17.84/hr
  • NEW KENT — 10 vacancies; $16.39/hr
  • RICHMOND — 19 vacancies; $16.59/hr

Every single district has wide varied transportation needs and student populations, so these numbers are not exactly comparing apples to apples. Still, the larger districts in Central Virginia might have to adjust routes to compensate.

“We’ve been touting it for a while that we are short,” said Jim Ellis, the director of Pupil Transportation for Henrico Schools. “We’ve got about 6,000 students who have opted out of riding the bus, so that’s taken some students off the rolls and hopefully eliminated some stops. That’s one big thing we think will help us.”

Ellis said they are actively planning to adjust some routes. Currently, there are about 40 potential hires in the pipeline to become bus drivers, Ellis said.

“It takes three to four weeks to get you from walking in to on the bus by yourself. It’s a process that you can’t come in today and drive tomorrow,” he said.

Henrico is actively recruiting and hiring new workers. Still, Ellis said the number of vacancies is historically high, nearly number a normal year.

“50, 55: usually that’s the normal vacancy rate. So, we’ve kind of doubled that one the past year,” Ellis said.

Henrico School is holding a job fair for school bus drivers on August 24 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Central Office location on Nine Mile Road.

The bus driver shortage is more pronounced now because many qualified or interested bus drivers are taking jobs in other industries or private companies, according to Ellis and Virginia Department of Education Transportation officials.

Here is an analysis sent over by the VDOE Transportation team when CBS 6 inquired about bus driver shortages across the region:

As you know, recruitment was a challenge in many divisions before the pandemic. CDL drivers are in short supply for all industries. A licensed driver can make $25 an hour with benefits driving a truck for 8 hours a day vs. $16 per hour for driving a school bus for 4-5 hours a day. The pandemic has exacerbated the existing shortage as many school bus drivers are in the most vulnerable ages for COVID-19 infection and some don't want to take a chance with their health.

Many public school districts in Central Virginia begin the school year in the early parts of September.