Still in Need of School Bus Drivers, NJ Renews Key Testing Waiver
Seven months into the academic year, bus companies and districts still need drivers to handle shortages on a daily basis.
In the meantime, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission is continuing to waive the requirement that all wannabe school bus drivers be able to identify "under the hood" engine parts in order to get the necessary license — the requirement has been mentioned by groups and schools as an obstacle to attracting new drivers.
Driver applicants in New Jersey will not be required to take the engine compartment component of the CDL skills test through June 30. The original waiver expired March 31.
The waiver from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is intended to continue alleviating a critical shortage of school bus drivers nationwide, which was worsened by the coronavirus pandemic, NJMVC said. States have had the option to adopt the waiver or continue mandating the "under the hood" component of testing.
"It has helped in some situations," Chloe Williams, president of the New Jersey School Bus Contractors Association, said of the waiver.
But, according to Williams, districts are still looking for routes to be covered due to short rosters of drivers. And drivers who receive the CDL license without the "under the hood" expertise are blocked from traveling out of state — schools may have field trips planned for Pennsylvania, New York, or Delaware.
"We get numerous contacts every day for both routes and trips," Williams said.
According to Williams, a heavy flow of applicants came in during the fall, likely due to strong media coverage of the need for drivers.
"By January, things were better, but we still absolutely do need drivers," she said.
Heading toward the end of the academic year, Williams said the concern now is keeping drivers on the job beyond the summer months.