Bus driver shortage near critical level
Families, school events could be impacted if shortage gets worse
School bus driver numbers are at a critical level throughout the region.
According to Barb Krug of Krug’s Bus Service in Medford, the shortage of drivers has caused routes to be scaled back and is putting extracurricular trips in jeopardy.
Krug’s Bus Service has been providing busing services to Medford schools since 1960. Barb Krug grew up working in the company and in recent years has been frequently pulled away from running the company to filling in for routes as drivers are needed.
“We are down to the bare minimum,” Krug said. The problem has been building to a head in the past several years as drivers leave and there are no new ones to take their places. “We have eliminated three to four routes in the last four years,” Krug said. With such a sprawling district as Medford, decreasing the number of routes has the impact of increasing the time students are spending on the bus each day. She said they have worked with the district to minimize the time students are on the bus but with the ongoing driver shortage fewer routes and longer ride times are a reality.
Krug said they have looked to increased wages and other incentives to try to attract new drivers, however, she said regardless of how they have tried to get the word out, they have just not had anyone come in the door.
There are several factors impacting the bus driver shortage. One factor is that for most people driving bus is a supplement to their income. Those working full time in factories and other jobs are seeing schedules that don’t allow them to commit to driving school bus routes. Other factors such as COVID-19 were a turn-off to some potential drivers in recent years who didn’t want to risk exposure.
Krug said they have been working to try to attract drivers and to let people know there is a definite need for bus drivers.
“My biggest concern is what if we don’t have enough drivers?” she asked. “Then everybody becomes bus drivers,” she answered that without buses parents would be responsible for taking their students to and from school.
She noted that they are locked into a contract with the school district which limits the amount they can offer drivers, but she noted that at this point they aren’t seeing anyone even expressing an interest in driving.
“We don’t have anyone walking in the door,” she said.
Krug said they work to make it as easy as possible for people to get their bus driver license. She noted that Krug’s Bus Service has their own CDL training program which saves potential drivers money from going through training programs offered through Northcentral Technical College.
In their in-house training program, they work with the prospective driver to get their permit, school bus driver physical or federal medical card and help prepare them for two to four written tests. “It can be daunting,” Krug said, noting that the recertification is done every four years and then after a driver reaches age 70 goes to every two years.
Krug said as an incentive they will pay for the licensing fees if a driver will commit to driving for them for three months. She said her husband is certifi ed as a third party tester through Fox Valley Technical College and in addition to Medford tests drivers for eight different schools. This makes it convenient without having to travel a long distance for testing.
“We make it as painless as possible,” Krug said.
Krug praised the drivers they do have, noting that other districts such as Lakeland Union High School in Minocqua saw such a shortage this year that there were times bus drivers from Medford would have to drive there and bring Lakeland teams back to Medford for sports competitions.
Krug said they are working with the school board’s transportation committee, principals and with the activities director when they don’t have drivers available. This has resulted in field trips and sports being rescheduled. She noted that if it came to a choice between covering bus routes and providing buses for extracurricular activities, the board’s transportation committee has emphasized to her that extracurricular activities, are just that, extra.
Krug said that overall the principals and the school district have been amazing to work with. She said they are partners when it comes to working with such things as ensuring discipline on the buses, but noted there is always room for improvement in communication.
To learn more about how to become a school bus driver, you may contact Krug at 715-748-3194.