From public transport to schools, the shortage of bus drivers is critical
How severe is the shortage of bus drivers in northern Michigan? From local schools to public transportation, executives are worried the problem could lead to significant service cuts – and are doing all they can to recruit new drivers and fill in the gaps.
Bus drivers and bus routes
Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS): According to Ginger Smith, executive director of marketing and communications for TCAPS, the district currently has 50 bus drivers assigned to morning routes and 52 to afternoon routes. These drivers try to cover the 53 bus routes that TCAPS has planned each morning and afternoon. TCAPS said its bus routes cover “over 3,000 bus stops in an area of 300 square miles” and that its drivers collectively “travel over 7,000 miles per day.”
According to Smith, about 40 percent of the general education population at TCAPS “uses a combination of school bus transportation to or from school” every day. Based on preliminary count day totals, TCAPS has 8,937 students enrolled for the 2021-2022 school year, which would bring the number of bus dependent students to over 3,500. Further, Smith notes that “About 100 students from non-public schools” in the area use TCAPS bus services daily, including a small number of students from Catholic schools in the Grand Traverse area and Christian School in Traverse City.
Dean of Transportation: Dean Transportation is a Lansing-based bus contractor that provides bus services for Northwest Education Services (North Ed, formerly Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District), as well as many other districts and ISDs statewide. According to Courtney Bollman, Dean’s director of community engagement, the company “currently operates 26 daily routes for North Ed,” which “take special education students to programs in the five-county Grand Traverse area.”
Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA): According to Eric Lingaur, director of communications and development of BATA, the public transport entity has “about 117 employees”, including 81 bus drivers. At full service capacity, BATA offers 11 fixed routes in and around Traverse City and in Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties. BATA drivers also cover the services of Link On-Demand (BATA’s carpooling service, comparable to Uber or Lyft) and Village Link (BATA’s reservation service “for users in rural areas who cannot access a fixed route stop ”).
TCAP: TCAPS currently has 13 vacancies for bus drivers.
Dean: At the moment, Dean Transportation isn’t exactly desperate for new school bus or van drivers. The company’s current team, says Bollman, is able to cover Dean’s 26 current routes from North Ed. However, she notes that Dean is “currently looking to fill nine bus helper positions, as well as add additional school bus and van drivers for new routes,” as well as hire replacement drivers and bus helpers for cold and flu season.
BATA: In total, BATA has 18 vacancies. 13 of them are intended for bus drivers, the other five being divided between the jobs of customer service representative and / or dispatch (3), technology technicians (1) and bus mechanics (1).
Services at risk
TCAP: Smith declined to reveal what percentage of TCAPS bus routes are at risk due to a driver shortage, noting it is “unknown” and “changes daily.” However, in an email sent to families in the district last week, TCAPS Superintendent John VanWagoner admitted that the driver shortage was “so severe that the district has cut routes, lengthened commute times and increased the number of passengers in each bus “. VanWagoner warned parents that “maintaining our regular transportation services may become impossible” this winter, due to cold and flu season and potential spikes in COVID-19 cases.
Dean: While Dean is able to cover North Ed’s bus needs at the moment, Bollman says the company doesn’t have a lot of staff, which could create problems this winter. Already, Dean is counting on “the support of Paraprofessionals in Class 7-9 North Ed to augment Dean’s internal bus support staff.” The company also relies on some of its own office workers to replace drivers who are unable to work.
“With a few sub-pilots and [with] with office staff sometimes having to drive, there is very little scope for coverage for the upcoming flu season or due to pandemic-related quarantines, ”says Bollman. “[Those issues] could affect staff or their families, which can lead to delays – or at worst, canceled routes, sometimes with little notice. “
BATA: Lingaur says BATA is currently operating at around 75% of its link capacity “due to limited staff resources”. This reduced capacity is occurring even as demand for bus services in the region picks up again in the wake of 2020. year on our fixed routes, ”Lingaur shares. “[We’ve also seen] a 115% increase in traffic for our Link On-Demand services from 2020 to 2021. ”
Strategies for bridging the gap
TCAP: Smith says TCAPS currently has several employees in non-transportation departments (14 in the morning, 12 in the afternoon) who have completed the necessary training to operate a bus if there is an emergency gap that needs to be filled.
The district has also increased its salary grid for bus drivers. During the 2019-2020 school year, the salary range for drivers was $ 14 to $ 16.25 per hour; at the start of this school year, it was $ 16 to $ 17.75 an hour. In mid-October, TCAPS added a bonus of $ 5 per hour to these rates, raising the hourly wages of district bus drivers to between $ 21 and $ 22.75.
In addition to these salary increases, TCAPS has implemented connection bonuses ($ 800 to $ 1,000, depending on experience), referral bonuses ($ 300 to TCAPS employees who recommend new bus drivers who work at least 90 days), attendance incentives, paid training and reimbursement for drivers interested in obtaining the necessary credentials.
Dean: Bollman says Dean recently increased his starting school bus driver salary from $ 23 to $ 26 an hour for the 2021-22 school year. The company also pays bus helpers “up to $ 21 an hour” and van drivers “up to $ 22 an hour”. Other benefits include a $ 750 registration bonus for qualified candidates and paid training for new hires.
BATA: In an effort to attract more applicants, BATA has implemented several salary increases since the start of the pandemic, increasing his starting salary as a driver to $ 14.50 an hour in September 2020 and to $ 17 from the hour last July. Lingaur says the average salary for BATA bus drivers is currently “$ 18.85 per hour or $ 39,215 per year.” BATA is also offering a signing bonus of $ 1,000 to new drivers, as well as ” paid training and a CDL license.