YORK COUNTY, Pa. — While the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic slowly wind down, Pennsylvania continues its struggle to hire school bus drivers.
Although there are more than 12,000 drivers who are members of the Pennsylvania School Bus Association (PSBA), contractors say that number was higher before the COVID pandemic.
“[In] 2019 we were pretty well staffed as a company [but] with all of the things that come with COVID, we lost a lot of drivers," said Alison Sload, the transportation manager for the contractor, Krapf Buses.
“I started to see the numbers and I realized, ‘Yeah we need bus drivers’ and then I started doing some more research on it and realizing it wasn’t just a Krapf problem, it is a nationwide problem," said the Hiring Coordinator of Krapf Buses, Michelle Ippolito.
More than one million students rely on school buses in Pennsylvania, but because of the shortage, some bus drivers have had to extend their routes, sometimes resulting in late pick-ups and angry parents.
"We do have a lot of drivers that are covering multiple school bus routes for multiple schools, so they may start an assigned route and then they will start a completing different route," Sload explained.
She also stressed how one of the main challenges in hiring drivers is the certification requirements, a process that takes twelve weeks to complete.
“All of the qualifications are a background check, drug testing, and we pay for all the training," said Sload.
In an effort to get more drivers on the road, the PSBA helped introduced House Resolution 15 to the state legislature, which removes the need for drivers to complete a portion of the driver's skills test.
However, Sload believes additional action is needed to encourage prospective school bus drivers.
“We [Krapf Buses] are working on lots of events throughout the summer and trying to bring people in and teach them more about becoming a school bus driver," she said.
Contractors across the state are offering to pay above minimum wage for drivers.
Trish Triplett and Marlina Ebersole have been school bus drivers for Red Lion Bus Company for years and say the work has been more than fulfilling.
Triplett says she enjoys the challenges of being a school bus driver, such as navigating the roads and driving through all weather conditions.
"It's very rewarding to be the first person to greet those kids when they get on in the morning," Ebersole remarked.