Triad bus drivers face challenges as districts see critical bus shortages

Piedmont Triad News

(WGHP) — Keeping the wheels turning is taking a lot of extra work.

School bus drivers in the Piedmont say the job has become a lot more challenging.

With a critical bus driver shortage, they are having to put in longer hours and juggle more duties to make up for the shortfall.

“It’s a good job. It has good things and bad things. Hate to say it,” Betty Thacker said.

She’s been driving a school bus for Guilford County for nearly two decades.

Thacker, like other bus drivers across the Piedmont, has to drive more miles and see more kids this school year because of a driver shortage.

“We’re doing double loads, and we’re picking up somebody else’s routes. That means we’re doing two jobs,” Thacker said.

Guilford County Schools has a little over 40 bus driver vacancies in the district.

School officials say it’s difficult to keep up with the salaries private companies are offering these drivers.

“I think GSO should give us more money to keep the job. The way they are falling off now, in another year or two, it’s going to be hard to have a driver on the bus to tell you the truth,” Thacker said.

Another bus driver, Carolyn Israel, says having no A/C on the bus in 90-degree weather is another struggle.

“There are a lot of buses now without air, and we’re having to drive in the heat. Dealing with students not wearing masks…extra loads, longer hours. I had several new stops added to my load. It’s just been very challenging,” Israel said.

“Getting kids in schools is the first barrier in making sure they learn,” said Brent Campbell, WSFCS chief communications officer.

Nearly every school district in the Piedmont is in the same boat.

Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools has 60 bus driver vacancies. The district is offering incentives, including paying for CDL credentials, giving bonuses and looking at alternative options to keep the buses running,

“Even perhaps looking at charter bus companies or different agencies or companies who have these types of drivers and or vehicles that can help us…with these problems,” Campbell said.

WSFCS has eight people taking classes to become bus drivers.

It takes about two months to become certified. Typically, people don’t have that time to wait for payment.

The district has started allowing people in training to become bus monitors so they can get paid during those two months.

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