LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. — Every year, transportation companies put a call out for more school bus drivers.
Some companies are reporting that the need to find new drivers has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.
FOX43 went to Shultz Transportation in West Lampeter Township, Lancaster County to talk with management about what it's been like trying to find drivers this year.
Every year, officials say they have to immediately start looking for workers once the school year ends. It can take well over a month to have a new worker cleared to run routes and trained to drive a bus.
One of the issues is some bus drivers are not returning to their jobs when schools reopen. Some bus companies in the United States report having older drivers with pre-existing medical conditions who are more at risk of complications from COVID-19. Companies also face the issue of drivers transitioning to jobs in the private sector which may pay more or offer other benefits. When there is a gap in driving, officials say that time can push drivers out the door and into other industries.
Shultz Transportation decided to offer a $500 bonus for new drivers. However, that has since been upped to $2,000 in an effort to entice new employees. The payment is divvied up over the first year of employment.
The family-owned and operated company has been in the school bus industry since 1955 and serves four school districts in the Lancaster County area. Over the years, business has grown from 3 buses to 270 vehicles in today's fleet.
Shultz is also offering $17 an hour to drive. In addition to that, President Mike Kramer says Shultz pays for the background checks needed to drive as well as people's CDL licenses.
Kramer says becoming a school bus driver can be a perfect job for someone who is retired or for a parent at-home who wants to add some supplemental cash to their family's income.
Another obstacle some companies report is that drivers are responsible for a 40-foot bus that can potentially be filled with dozens of students. They must navigate routes with other drivers who may zip by the bus when a driver is attempting to pick up students or who drive aggressively.
Experts encourage companies to offer paid training and better benefits to attract newcomers to the field. They say companies should focus on driver retention or staggering school start times so the same drivers can run multiple routes per shift.