Bus driver shortage in East Ramapo draws crowds to school board meeting
Hundreds of people were kicked out of an East Ramapo school board meeting on Monday, September 13, 2021, as parents showed up to complain about missing buses.
Nancy Cutler, Rockland News/Westchester Journal
Hiring bonuses. Gas Card Gifts. New legislation.
In New Jersey, lawmakers, transit officials and private businesses are getting creative with hiring drivers as businesses, schools and agencies nationwide urge to fill the shortage of licensees commercial drivers, commonly referred to as CDLs.
Assemblyman Sean Kean, R-Monmouth, said his office doesn’t usually get phone calls about school issues, but his phone lines were recently blocked by parents calling about their stranded children waiting for school buses and difficulty arranging trips to school sporting events. .
In response, Kean co-sponsored a bill that would allow people without CDLs to drive a “Type S” school bus, which is a smaller bus that seats up to nine passengers.
“The idea would be that if we broaden the pool of people who can drive them, it might free up the real CDL users to drive bigger buses,” Kean said.
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Asked if there were any safety concerns about letting non-CDL drivers drive the small buses, Kean said that was the trade-off, but added that his bill would still require the Type S bus drivers are trained in safety, working with children with disabilities, and any other training required by the Department of Education for Type S drivers.
“We’re just looking for a way to relieve those school districts,” Kean said.
Since the start of the pandemic, NJ Transit has faced a growing shortage of bus operators. Currently, the agency employs 3,240 drivers, down 5% from last June and 7% from June 2020. The ideal number of employees is 3,600, the agency’s spokesperson said, Jim Smith.
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The agency had to find innovative ways to find potential drivers. He worked with the Motor Vehicle Commission to acquire the addresses of the 151,212 CDL holders in the state and sent them postcards beginning in January.
The postcards touted the offers NJ Transit would provide if hired:
A hiring bonus of $6,000 for CDL holders with a Class B (or A) with Air Brake and Passenger endorsements
A bonus of $3,000 for applicants with a CDL license
Competitive salary, benefits and retirement pension.
Other efforts include offering current bus workers a $1,000 bonus if they recommend a new hire, and two hiring events last month resulted in 59 conditional offers, Smith said.
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“In the four-[plus] months since the mail came out, NJ Transit has hired 209 bus operators,” Smith said. “That compares to four-[plus] months before the mailer, when we hired 147 operators, so we saw an increase in hiring since the mailer.”
There are also currently 57 drivers in training.
Coach USA, a Paramus-based company that provides contract services on select NJ Transit routes and operates private routes nationwide and in Canada, is hosting a hiring event on Wednesday.
“We’re literally going to interview people on the buses, and we’re going to make that as engaging as possible to really understand what we are, which is not just a transport company providing services, but also a technology company,” said Dan Rodriguez, a spokesperson for Coach.
The coach serves six NJ Transit Hudson County routes, which at the height of omicron left about 20% of trips unmanned, a problem exacerbated by the national shortage of CDL drivers.
On Wednesday, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Coach will offer hourly gas cards, provide lunch and have the opportunity to meet with staff to talk about openings at all levels – drivers, mechanics, cleaners and other positions.
“Everyone will have the opportunity to speak to someone who currently works in different capacities at Coach, not only the drivers but also the management,” Rodriguez said.
The event will take place at 349 First St. in Elizabeth.
Colleen Wilson covers the Port Authority and NJ Transit for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to his work covering the region’s transport systems and how they affect your travels, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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