School bus companies across Connecticut say they are facing a driver shortage. According to several companies, the problem has never been worse and it is resulting in longer bus rides and some delays.
“We have to have longer bus routes to be able to get the kids home because we don’t have enough drivers in many instances to cover the routes," said Jon Hipsher, who runs the day-to-day operations for M&J Bus.
Hipsher says M&J can hire 100 drivers right now. He estimates that number is higher than 700 statewide.
“It is all over the state of Connecticut," said Hipsher. "Every school bus company, every terminal that we operate, we all have open positions.”
Wednesday morning leaders of seven bus companies, and some of their drivers, came together to discuss the problem. The companies represented almost the entire state.
“It’s much easier when you have enough drivers to fill every seat," said Donald DeVivo, who leads DATTCO.
According to DeVivo and others, the problem existed before the pandemic. However, the pandemic has made the problem worse. Some drivers left the industry and don't plan on coming back.
"Some love the part time hours, some are looking for full time work," said Hipsher.
Other drivers took their commercial driver's licenses (CDLs), which are required to be a school bus driver, to a different job.
"You've got a competing workforce," said DeVivo. "When you get a CDL you can drive a truck and right now there’s a lot of truck driving jobs.”
The Connecticut school bus companies are doubling down on recruiting to address the issue.
“We are participating in job fairs we are advertising there’s ads on the radio. Some are doing billboards," said DeVivo. “It’s a great job for people who want to time their schedule with their children.”
The companies are also highlighting that, while it is mostly part-time work, they pay higher than the minimum wage. Pay ranges from $18-25 an hour, depending on what part of the state the driver is working. They also say schedules are flexible.
Several school bus drivers spoke Wednesday saying that there is also an emotional pay-off that comes with the job.
“You do make an impact on the children and those kids," said Marie Illingworth, a driver. "When I was driving bus seven, those were my kids.”