WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — The pandemic has put school transportation companies in a pinch and it’s striking a nerve with parents.
“It was around 5:30 p.m., the school called saying ‘the bus never showed up and it was still very delayed,'” said Waterbury alderman and parent George Noujaim.
As an alderman, he knows he isn’t the only parent grappling with school bus delays. Noujaim says he’s getting an earful from other parents in his district.
“You know, ‘where’s my kid? When are they going to fix this? What’s going on?'” he said.
Stephen Gardner is the general manager at one of Waterbury’s school bus companies, All-Star Transportation. He told News 8 Waterbury and districts across the nation are in the grips of a severe bus driver shortage.
“It’s the worst shortage we’ve ever experienced,” Gardner said. “We’re probably down close to 15 or 20 percent of our drivers.”
On the first day of school in Hamden, 300 students were affected by a bus driver shortage there. Instead of 82 drivers they expected to be on the roads, there were only 59.
New Haven’s Director of Transportation told News 8 they’re down 27 drivers. He says the company they use, First Student, is now offering incentives in the form of sign-on bonuses. He says after 30 days on the job or after completing training, that bonus could range from $1,500 to $5,000 depending on your level of experience behind the wheel.
Gardner told News 8 All-Star Transportation decided not to offer those types of incentives.
“The sign-on bonus we don’t think would be very successful because it usually caters toward drivers who are already licensed and we would just be taking drivers from another lot and bringing them here and just making the problem worse for somebody else,” Gardner said.
Instead, Gardner says All-Star is embarking on an aggressive social media recruiting campaign and they’re attending events all over the state where they have a chance to recruit in person. All-Star Transportation is also banking on its workers remaining on the road.
“We also offered our employees their yearly increase a few months early because they’ve been doing such a good job for us,” said Gardner.
He also adds many delays are happening now because in-person learning is back.
“Last year was a challenge but we were able to double-up on a lot of runs because of the cohorting and some schools being remote,” he said.
If you’re interested in becoming a school bus driver, Gardner says new Waterbury drivers start at $18.75 an hour. There’s a “Drivers Wanted” sign posted at the entrance of their offices in Waterbury. The number to call is (203) 753-8366.