WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — The general manager of one of Waterbury’s school bus companies is starting to like what he sees.
More people are applying to be bus drivers.
All-Star Transportation allowed News 8 to get a look at Friday’s training session for some new applicants.
Nine drivers were part of this session, although Stephen Gardner said applicants have jumped “considerably” in the month of September. Overall, All-Star has around 60 new drivers taking behind-the-wheel training right now.
“Which is the largest group we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Gardner said. “Since 2009.”
Gardner attributes that to the end of unemployment benefits in September, an increase in advertising, and the enormous news coverage of the school bus driver shortage that’s a significant problem all over Connecticut and the country. It was a big factor in why Joedian Brooks is a new driver in training right now.
If she passes all of the training, she gets to bring her young child to work with her.
“And I’m helping a situation so it’s a win-win,” she said. “Good for them and good for me.”
Another large Connecticut school bus company, DATTCO, said they’re seeing an uptick in applicants, too — many are citing news coverage of the problem for spurring them into action.
“We’re getting a lot of people calling and wanting to help out,” said Patrick Slater, Recruiting Manager for DATTCO.
But, even with things trending in a better direction, there’s still this cruel reality:
Slater says DATTCO needs at least 100 drivers immediately. Even though 60 drivers are in training at All-Star, Gardner says they’re still 90 drivers short of where they were pre-COVID. He adds part of the reason is because the company recently lost more than 10 experienced drivers because of the state COVID vaccine mandate.
Even though more people are applying, transportation companies continue to urge patience as they try to work through the situation and try and lessen and reduce delays.
Training for new drivers takes six to eight weeks and they say they refuse to cut any corners where safety is concerned just to boost their driver numbers.
“We have to wait for them to do their background check and all of their drug testing,” said Karen Vega, a certified trainer for All-Star Transportation.
“We are not rushing candidates through the process,” Gardner said. “The process is there for good reason and that’s to ensure safety at the end of the day.”