Feds relax some testing requirements to get more school bus drivers
If your child takes a school bus, chances are you’ve faced challenges as districts struggle to find drivers.
In hopes of inspiring more people to drive a school bus, Minnesota and Wisconsin are participating in a unique opportunity.
Earlier this year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) began allowing states to waive portions of the Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) test—the waived portion of the test would require school bus drivers potential to identify engine components “under the hood”.
Wisconsin has already rolled it out — the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (MNDPS) said it asked to be part of it and expects it to be available to people in March.
“We are confident that this waiver, from the engine compartment portion of the review, is not a safety issue for children who are transported by bus,” Reggie Paradowski, director of driver services for the Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles (WI DMV), mentioned.
“Most school bus companies have mechanics working on these buses,” Paradowski added, explaining why they thought it was a good move for the state. “It’s not like a traditional truck driver who maybe gets under the hood to see what’s going on if there are any issues.”
As of Feb. 21, the Wisconsin DMV said seven people had taken their CDL test with the federal waiver. Paradowski says people still have to pass the written and driving portions of the test. The state has also contacted 1,000 people to ask them to renew their licenses and help deal with the shortage.
Minnesota and Wisconsin are both struggling to recruit new pilots and retain the pilots they have — a big reason for that is uncertainty over whether there will be in-person classes.
“It’s just a constant struggle every day,” said Cherie Hime, executive director of the Wisconsin School Bus Association. “I saw [school bus driver] shortages ranging from 5% or 10%, up to 40%,” Hime added of the situation in Wisconsin.
Minnesota School Bus Operators Association executive director Shelly Jonas said it’s been a tough two years with shortages averaging around 20% in parts of Minnesota.
Both associations say that by increasing salaries, signing bonuses and offering flexible hours, they have tried to recruit more drivers. They appreciate state officials taking advantage of the federal waiver, but know it won’t help everyone equally — that’s because of the high number of border communities.
For people who take the test with the waiver and pass, they will have an “intrastate” restriction on their license – meaning they will not be able to cross state lines.
Many bus companies also used billboards and advertisements, on radio and television, to attract new drivers. Joe Ludewig of the St. Cloud area answered the call.
“I kept hearing all the ads and all the articles saying they were such short drivers,” Ludewig said.
He has been driving since Trobec Bus Service in St. Stephen, since October 2021. Ludewig says his training has gone well, his bus has been running great, and the kids have been great. He even got to drive his son’s wrestling team to matches.
“I was going to go anyway, now I drive the bus for the team and I get paid to do it too,” Ludewig said of his trips to his son’s games. “It’s kind of a work benefit.”
Information on how to become a school bus driver in Minnesota can be found here.
Information on how to become a school bus driver in Wisconsin can be found here.