HARRISBURG – PennDOT announced several new initiatives Thursday aimed at tackling the school bus driver shortage affecting many school districts in Pennsylvania.
These new initiatives were announced during a virtual news conference with PennDOT, the Pa. Department of Health and Department of Education regarding strategies to protect in-person instruction at schools.
Regarding transportation, it was announced school districts can use federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to reimburse parents or guardians to safely transport their students to and from in-person school.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported last week that the Philadelphia School District was already offering reimbursement, and was raising the amount from $150 per month to $300 per month.
PennDOT said it is reaching out to approximately 375,000 drivers with a Commercial Driver’s License in the state about the immediate need for drivers and how to get the correct endorsements for a school bus license.
This measure is a step in the direction Warren County School District Superintendent Amy Stewart said was among a list of ideas a group of superintendents put together in response to a state request. Stewart said one of the ideas sent back to state officials was to offer a waiver so those CDL drivers without the passenger endorsement could be called on to alleviate the shortage.
“We were also asked for ideas to send back to the governor on what we could ask for,” Stewart said. “And waivers on that CDL special licensing was one of the things that we put on the list.”
PennDOT will also temporarily expand its days of operation to offer CDL skills testing at 23 locations throughout the state to include Mondays for four weeks beginning Oct. 18. The additional day will make the process more convenient for potential drivers to complete the process faster.
To schedule a CDL skills test, either visit the Driver and Vehicle Services website or call 717-412-5300. Additionally, certain third-party businesses are certified by PennDOT to administer the road test for a market-driven fee.
“PennDOT is committed to ensuring safe transportation for students,” Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Kurt Myers said. “We urge CDL licensees who are seeking work or supplemental employment to obtain a school bus endorsement – taking advantage of the additional hours for CDL testing – to help transport students safely.”
Pennsylvania is one of a number of states facing a bus driver shortage. The shortage, which was a looming problem before the pandemic, has only been exacerbated by COVID.
“We talk about planning for what if we’re short 10 bus drivers,” Stewart said. “We’re going to have to make choices about where we have kids and where we don’t have kids.”
For anyone wishing to become a bus driver, the first step is obtaining the initial issuance of a CDL. Anyone 18 years or older may obtain the School Bus and Passenger endorsements on a CDL to obtain a school bus license. For a list of steps and forms to obtain a CDL and the school bus endorsement, please visit the Driver and Vehicle Services website under School Bus Drivers.