There are many reasons for the continuing shortage of bus and truck drivers, but some say a backlog of CDL testing is prolonging the problem.
MINNEAPOLIS – As children across the state return to school this week, getting there has become a major problem for several districts.
A continuing shortage of bus drivers – locally and nationally – has now forced districts to get creative.
In Minneapolis, they pay parents who can drive their children to class.
In St. Paul, seven schools are pushing back their start times and older students are encouraged to use the subway if they need to get around.
Stillwater is also facing a shortage of drivers and in fact filed a complaint about it, claiming his bus company had broken its contract by not making sure it had enough drivers for the school year.
Even schools that have their routes covered say they are extremely tight.
To make matters worse, experts say efforts to increase wages, bonuses and other incentives will take time to bring lasting relief.
“It won’t be a quick fix,” said Shelly Jonas, executive director of the Minnesota School Bus Operator’s Association. “I think it will take a while for these things to get filtered out, and so I would say, hopefully, maybe by mid-October, we can sort this out.”
Jonas says the pandemic has impacted the shortage in several ways.
“I know that a number of our employees have said that the Delta variant caused some of them to leave,” she said. “And just the way the schools were closed on and off last year, I think people didn’t feel safe in that position, which caused some people to quit the industry.”
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But as schools scramble to fill positions, she says many overlook another critical factor: Before you start a bus route and grab that bonus, you need a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) and the driver’s license. pandemic has complicated that too. It is a process that can take weeks and some additional travel time.
“The shutdown of DMVs has definitely hurt our industry,” Jonas said, referring to several branches that closed during the pandemic and have yet to reopen. “A lot of our school bus contractors have to send their applicants an hour or an hour and a half to take a written test. We don’t even have the option to go online and make an appointment so we have to queue. . “
Jonas says the backlog hurts both new applicants and long-time drivers who need to renew their licenses. Last week, the DMV announced 96 special weekend appointments at the end of September to meet demand for CDL road tests, including bus tests. But the additional appointments were only offered in the metropolitan area, and all slots are already full.
“For us, it has been frustrating to see the DMV make it easier for 16-year-old drivers to get an appointment, rather than our employees who depend on a license to make a living in Minnesota,” said Jonah.
And this frustration extends beyond the bus drivers.
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“It seems to be very difficult, sometimes weeks at a time and maybe even a month or two before they can come in and take their tests,” said Steve Yaggy, owner of Yaggy Specialty Transportation in Rochester. “I would love to see our state agencies work on the availability of this test.”
Yaggy says the Minnesota Trucking Association has been trying to tackle its own driver shortage since before COVID started, and with the crisis now, once drivers finally get their CDLs, he says their options go way beyond bus driving.
“The driver is in the driver’s seat – pun intended,” Yaggy said. “There are a lot of opportunities out there. We are just, constantly, looking for different ways to retain drivers; to keep drivers on the move, to keep their paychecks in good shape and to get them home with their families. “
When asked about the potential increase in CDL testing availability, Minnesota Driver and Vehicle Services sent the following statement to KARE11:
The weekend meetings of September 25 and 26 are a pilot program. DPS-DVS will review the request and no-shows for the weekend and determine if there will be more additional appointments on the weekend.