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Bus driver shortage dire in Duval County, contractor says

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Claire Heddles
/
WJCT News
These buses would normally be out on routes in the morning but are instead parked due to a driver shortage, according to Jacksonville Student Transportation of America manager Pete Conway.

Duval County Public Schools need more bus drivers, according to contractor Student Transportation of America. Standing in front of dozens of parked buses Tuesday morning, manager Pete Conway said all three of the city’s driver hubs have idle buses.

"You see how the shortage is actually affecting us," Conway said. "In a normal setting, pre-COVID, the majority of these buses would be out transporting children right now."

Conway said his company made layoffs during the pandemic, and many of those drivers didn't came back. Other workers, he said, quit out of an abundance of caution when kids couldn’t get vaccinated against COVID.

"We have a demographic for a lot of our employees that are in the high-risk category, so it's an older driver population, and some of those folks have elected to stay out," Conway said.

The company is now offering up to $3,000 sign-on bonuses and $1,000 donations to nonprofits that refer new drivers to them, in an attempt to lure more drivers onto school buses.

Driver candidates choose which nonprofit they want to receive the $1,000 donation from Student Transportation of America on their online applications.

Training new drivers takes six-to-eight weeks. In the meantime, the company is giving the drivers they already have retention bonuses and incentives to pick up extra routes, according to Conway.

Claire joined WJCT as a reporter in August 2021. She was previously the local host of NPR's Morning Edition at WUOT in Knoxville, Tennessee. During her time in East Tennessee, her coverage of the COVID pandemic earned a Public Media Journalists’ Association award for investigative reporting. You can reach Claire at (904) 250-0926 or on Twitter @ClaireHeddles.