By Erin Wise
Aug. 9, 2023

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Across the country school districts have dealt with a major shortage of bus drivers for years. While some are seeing an improvement in staffing, the need for more drivers remains.

School Transportation Solutions in Birmingham has 75 drivers. The company is currently in need of seven to eight drivers. STS services special needs students in Birmingham City Schools and Homewood City Schools. The company is also contracted for all student transportation in Tarrant City Schools, the Magic City Acceptance Academy, I-3 Academy, Empowered Community School, and the Aviation School.

Walter Turner, Director of STS, said drivers are hard to find. The company is adjusting to ensure students get to their destinations.

“There are some routes that you can combine if you have the capacity on the bus,” said Turner.

Drivers can also double up on routes, meaning they pick up a set of students from a school that releases earlier. Once those students are dropped off, they go to another school to pick up a second group released later.

The amount of time students spend on the bus is taken into consideration.

“You don’t want a kid on the bus for two or three hours. That’s just not good,” said Turner.

STS aims to pick up and drop off students within an hour.

Hoover City School System has filled 14 positions over the summer. Several initiatives were implemented, from raising driver pay to up to $29 an hour, raising pay for substitute drivers, offering a $250 incentive to current employees who refer drivers, and having half-route options for drivers.

The district needs six more drivers. While the transportation department works towards that goal, there will be consolidated bus stops.

“There will be a designated location in the neighborhood. Those students will meet there every morning and get on their bus. In the afternoon they’ll be dropped off at that exact location,” said Sherea Harris-Turner, Public Relations Specialist for Hoover City Schools.

The goal is to free up some time for bus drivers by limiting frequent stops.

“With that extra time they can pick up additional students and be sure to get all of their routes covered,” said Harris-Turner.

Shelby County Schools is short 10 drivers. The district is filling the vacant routes with substitute drivers or running double routes.

The district offered a $1,000 incentive program for new drivers this summer, has allowed teachers to go back to being bus drivers, and is taking advantage of a free rapid online training program through the Alabama Community College System.

The online course was created in 2022 to help new bus drivers meet federal requirements.

Houston Blackwood, Workforce Director for the ACCS Innovation Center, explained the program streamlines the process for new drivers to go through the theory portion online, have more time for behind-the-wheel training, and ultimately take the state course for certification.

“It moves a little faster for the school system and the student,” said Blackwood. “The federal guidelines are complicated and if you are a small system, it’s hard to keep up with all of those things. What we’ve done is just made it one step easier for those systems.”

Since January 2023, 252 people have completed the full training through certification and 113 school districts have benefitted from the program.

“It is a rewarding job for people that want to become a school bus driver. We do exciting things here at STS. A lot of exciting things, talking about the field trips they go to, the football games they go to, and carrying them back and forth to school.

[Drivers] are the first person meeting these kids, first thing every day,” said Turner.