Covid complicates years of brewing school bus driver shortage | Business


Buses line up outside Selinsgrove High School on Wednesday.

The ongoing pandemic has not caused the nation’s shortage of bus drivers, it has exacerbated a growing trend for years, according to industry professionals.

According to Ryan Dellinger, executive director of the Pennsylvania School Bus Association, 42,464 licensed school bus drivers in Pennsylvania are entering the 2021-22 school year. He cited data from the State Department of Motor Vehicles.

“We’re missing about 2,000 drivers statewide,” Dellinger said.

Lisa Weikel from Weikel Busing talks about being a bus driver and what it entails.

The decrease in the labor pool is constant from year to year. Pennsylvania lost 450 drivers from 2020 to 2021, Dellinger said. There were 400 fewer from 2019 to 2020; nearly 600 fewer from 2018 to 2019.

“It’s not something that started because of COVID but it’s not helping anyone,” said Derl Reichard Jr., managing director of Reichard Bussing LLC, Danville. The company operates 10 buses and three vans as one of the transportation contractors of the Danville area school district.

A part-time salary, a staggered work day, and a tedious process to become a school bus driver are all factors at play, Reichard said. Another problem, said PJ Adam, director of operations at Weikel Busing in Selinsgrove, is that fewer retirees – an important labor resource for part-time work – are interested in taking the job.

“It’s been a struggle for a long time,” said Adam.

Rohrer Bus, headquartered in Perry County, provides transportation services to 20 school districts, including Lewisburg, Mifflinburg and Selinsgrove. The company continues to look for new recruits for everyone on

“The driver shortage has been a challenge that the company and the industry have faced for years. The pandemic has really exacerbated it. It got to the point of getting the attention of schools, government and the media, ”said Kristen McGaffin, Manager of Personnel and Recruitment, Rohrer Bus.

The Wolf administration responded this month with a unique recruiting effort. PennDOT has sent letters to approximately 376,000 commercial driver’s license holders hoping to generate interest in the vacancies. The effort had prompted nearly 1,500 CDL holders to inquire about openings Thursday, the state’s latest data available.

The buses

Bus to Weikel Busing in Selinsgrove on Wednesday.

So, do you want to drive?

The Pennsylvania School Bus Association estimates that it takes 10 to 12 weeks to become a school bus driver.

According to the Association’s information website,, it starts with the initial investigation, criminal background check and motor vehicle report. The hiring process continues with an interview, pre-hire drug testing, reference exams, physical exam, fingerprint check and child abuse history and school district clearances. There is 14 hours of classroom training, four written exams, six to 20 hours of bus training, driver skills exam, CDL, and post-CDL drug testing.

A candidate who pushes hard might be able to get a license in about a month, said Reichard Jr. The training, on par with that of a long-haul driver, including the required under-the-hood knowledge, can be intimidating.

“That’s a lot of hoops,” Reichard Jr. said. “Notice, that’s it for two hours a day of work. “

McGaffin, of Rohrer Bus, said internal advice and training helps the company speed up the process by around 5-6 weeks. They also cover training costs and pay trainees during the process.

“It’s such a rewarding job. Our drivers say how much they love their children and how much they love being a part of the community they live in, ”said McGaffin.

Reichard, who hires contractors to drive his buses and vans and drives his own routes, said his day starts with the first pickup at 6.30am. students attending Columbia-Montour Vo-Tech between Bloomsburg and dropping them off at Danville Area High School at 7:05 am. It then begins its normal course, picking up high school and college students from 7.20 am until the final deposit around 8 am.

In the afternoon, he starts his bus at 2:40 p.m. and goes to the middle school in the Danville region, to the high school a few kilometers away with landings around 3:30 p.m. Then it’s back to school to bring in the Vo-Tech children at 3:40 p.m. before the last disembarkation at 4:15 p.m.

Reichard said he pays his drivers $ 65 a day, regardless of the size of the ride. Some entrepreneurs, he said, pay by the hour, usually between $ 12 and $ 15 per day.

At Rorher, drivers are paid between $ 45 and $ 70 per day depending on the length and time of their journey.

Fewer drivers, longer journeys

The Mifflinburg area school district has 39 bus drivers this school year, 10 fewer than in 2019 before the pandemic. Superintendent Dan Lichtel said a lack of available drivers has forced the district to work with Rohrer to redesign and consolidate routes, eliminating two buses, or four trips, from the bus schedule. Bus trips lasted, on average, between five and 15 minutes, Lichtel said.

The district operates on a tiered system, with primary students separated from middle and high school students. He took advantage of his earlier start to the school year as additional drivers were available. Once school started for all districts, Lichtel said the labor pool has cleared up. It could also become difficult for early layoffs and delayed starts due to snow this winter, he said.

“I know some days it’s up to the last available individual. We constantly advertised the drivers, ”said Lichtel, noting the announcement on the district’s website at

Lewisburg area school district superintendent Dr Jennifer Polinchock said up to five routes have been cut or consolidated this school year. The average trip was 30 to 45 minutes, she said, with some students on the bus for almost an hour. It also means earlier departures for students on longer routes.

“Some of our kids are waiting for the buses at 6.30am. It’s really early,” Polinchock said.

Midd-West School District superintendent Joe Stroup said district contractors Weikel Busing and Spade Busing have done the right thing to ensure student transportation continues without disruption. A bus line was cut this school year, but Stroup said this was due to population changes.

The students got to school on time, got home on time and made it to competitions and extracurricular events with no problem with bus transportation, Stroup said.

“I haven’t had to deal with any bus situations yet this year,” Stroup said, knocking hard enough on an office piece of furniture that sound was heard through the phone.

“It’s a scary thing,” Stroup said of the prospect of disruption on the buses, “but a situation we haven’t experienced so far.”

The buses

Mike Walz, left, Lisa Weikel and PJ Adam all have multiple roles at Weikel Busing, including bus driver.

Make it work

Weikel Busing in Selinsgrove contracts with the Midd-West and Selinsgrove school districts, as well as with SUMMIT Early Learning and the Central Middle Unit at Susquehanna.

According to owner Lisa Weikel and PJ Adam, director of operations, the company lost six drivers to start this school year, but has slowly rebuilt. Only one driver chose to quit his job due to COVID-19, but another lost his life to illness.

“It was a huge loss. He was a great guy, a great asset and we have definitely missed him here, ”said Weikel.

“The (other) people we lost were employed full time because their families were affected in other ways,” said Adam.

A CDL holder has inquired about an opening since the PennDOT letter was posted statewide, Weikel added.

The buses

Robert Inglis / The Daily Item Lisa Weikel owns Weikel Busing in Selinsgrove and also drives due to a shortage of drivers.

Weikel drives for the company. Adam too. The same goes for the maintenance and office personnel of the company, whether it is a bus or a van. They’ve all stepped up to ride the roads as needed and have yet to miss a race this school year, Weikel and Adam said. But that means other tasks are put aside.

Like most other bus companies, Weikel is hiring with more information available at Travel after school to attend sporting and other events can ease the burden even further. Weikel said she even tried to recruit parents who were already traveling to watch their children play to drive the team’s buses and vans, as they would attend anyway.

“It would be huge to just help cover travel,” Weikel said.

“Even more difficult”

Susquehanna central mid-unit contracts with Rohrer Bus, Weikel Busing and FishingCreek Transportation. Sandra Greak, CSIU Transportation Coordinator, said the loss of retired or full-time drivers in recent years has prompted the organization to make a complete transition to contract transportation services.

Entrepreneurs face the same issues the CSIU and school districts face when it comes to retention and recruiting, Greak said. Like school districts, CSIU works with contractors to seek solutions when drivers are not available. Often, contractors’ offices and maintenance staff replace even bus company owners.

“The pandemic and the need to quarantine and isolate staff has made this even more difficult,” Greak said.

Cathy Keegan, superintendent of the Milton Area School District, said COVID-19 testing and illness were the reasons for the shortages in her district. Permitting requirements also played a role, she said. The district, which contracts with Hackenburg Transportation, worked with the company to consolidate the routes. They are also considering a multi-tiered bus system.

“We don’t have a large group of additional bus drivers,” Keegan said. “If we have a few sick people, it really puts a strain on our transportation resources. “