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Wanted: School bus drivers at First Student, WNY Bus Company and local districts

"Once people do it — they tend to love it"
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Posted at 5:50 PM, Aug 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-05 09:25:43-04

“Hiring school bus drivers” — one of the many advertisements spotted across the Western New York region.

There is a big shortage of school bus drivers across the area and many school districts are scrambling to find drivers before the start of school.

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WNY Bus Company ad outside Cheektowaga Central School District.

Outside the Cheektowaga Central School District on Union Road, the WNY Bus Company is promoting hourly wages as high as $25 an hour.

Industry leaders tell me we're facing a “critical” shortage of school bus drivers as the new school year looms.

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David Christopher, executive director, New York Association for Public Transportation (NYAPT), in Zoom interview.

"78 percent of those people said we're not sure we can cover all of our bus routes come September because we won't have enough drivers and we don't think we'll be able to recruit enough drivers by September,” explained David Christopher, executive director, New York Association for Public Transportation (NYAPT).

At First Student in Cheektowaga future school bus drivers are in training.

In order to qualify:

  • You must be 21 years old
  • At least three years of driving experience
  • If you don't have a Commercial Drivers License, you will be trained
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Dawn Tighe, training center manager, First Student.

“There's a lot of people in training right now and they're at different stages of training. We have people that are at the skill station, they're in classroom training, we have people that are studying to get their permits with the state before we can put them behind the wheel of the school bus,” noted Dawn Tighe, training center manager.

First Student serves a number of districts including Buffalo Public Schools.

First Student says each school district has different needs but when the kids are ready to head back to class — the buses will be ready to roll out.

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Inside First Student bus.

“We’re working closely with our districts based on what their needs are — to make sure all of our runs do get covered and we have drivers for each of them,” described Tighe.

First Student offers between $19.55 an hour to $25 an hour, depending on experience and sign-on bonuses.

The school bus driver shortages began several years ago, but COVID and a very competitive job market is making it even worse.

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School bus.

“You can go to work delivering packages for the same amount of money you're paid as a school bus driver with not anywhere near the responsibility,” remarked Christopher.

“It’s been quite difficult to find additional drivers at this time,” said Robert Finch, head school bus driver, Salamanca City Central School District.

The Salamanca City Central School District operates 27 buses to transport 1,300.

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Robert Finch, head school bus driver, Salamanca City Central School District, in Zoom interview.

The district is conducting a hiring blitz to hire eight new drivers. Three are currently enrolled.

Finch says they're offering $1,500 sign-on bonuses.

“$500 the first day you drive for us — the other $500 in December and then the $500 at the end of the year,” explained Finch.

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Inside First Student bus.

School bus drivers need extensive training, the experts tell me they provide plenty of training to safely teach drivers how to safely transport children and it can be very rewarding.

“We also give you student management skills and you know — just smiling at a kid — saying hello and greeting their day can really make a difference in somebody's life,” described Tighe.

“It is a decent job — once people do it — they tend to love it. Many people who retire tell us that it's the best job they ever had,” declared Christopher.