The national bus driver shortage: are rideshare drivers the solution?

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You probably have fond memories of your school bus drivers. Their kind smiles and seemingly limitless patience (or their tolerance, at least) made you a little happier back in the day. The average school bus driver comes from just about every age group and personality type. But as diverse as they are, they all have one thing in common: kids depend on them, and so do their parents.

Kids still depend on these drivers, but as we all know, the world isn’t the way it used to be. As it turns out, there’s a school bus driver shortage across the United States … and that could be very interesting for gig drivers, wouldn’t you say?

In this post, we’ll look at the current school bus driver shortage, what it’s like to be a school bus driver, how much money  you could earn, and other info to see if you might want to be a school bus driver. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • Where have all the school bus drivers gone?
  • Requirements for school bus driver jobs
  • How much do school bus drivers make, and are there benefits?
  • How does being a bus driver compare to rideshare and delivery driving?

Where have all the school bus drivers gone?

Before simply assuming that it’s all because of the pandemic, know that the school bus driver shortage is old news. Even though bus drivers didn’t transport many kids during the height of the COVID-19 shutdowns, they still drove, taking some children their school meals and ferrying homework back and forth. 

Even without the worries about the virus, masking, vaxxing, and the rest, school bus drivers have been getting increasingly scarce. In some states, school officials are frantically recruiting for school bus drivers. Pennsylvania, for instance, is reaching out to 375,000 holders of Commercial Drivers Licenses (CDLs) in order to get them to join or rejoin the ranks of school bus drivers. 

In New Jersey, the shortage has meant such long delays, parents have come close to reporting their children as missing. Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, the National Guard was activated to drive school buses around.

The bus driver shortage has some other causes that might surprise you. As much as drivers complain about working for companies such as Uber and Lyft … many bus drivers have fled their school buses to snap up jobs in the gig economy. They’re opting for Amazon delivery jobs, as well as driving jobs with UPS, FedEx, and other carriers that welcome drivers with their qualifications. With so many drivers fleeing, schools and contracting companies are taking desperate measures in the name of recruitment.

One side benefit of the bus driver shortage, at least for gig drivers, is a boom in Uber and Lyft rides, plus the rise of rideshare companies like HopSkipDrive and Zum geared specifically to transporting children

As gig drivers know, when companies sense they need more drivers, they offer incentives. Not surprisingly, that’s what the contractors that supply drivers to schools are doing.

Some of these companies are raising school bus driver starting salaries to $17.50 per hour and more, while others are offering $2,000 sign-on bonuses. Some even offer to pay for the extra training. It’s enough to make you wonder … could they use some rideshare and delivery drivers to take over those school bus driver jobs? They probably can. The question is, would you want to be a school bus driver? Let’s see what’s involved.

Requirements for bus driver jobs

Although you might think the job sounds easy, there are more than a few hoops school bus drivers need to clear before they can even apply for a job with a contractor or school. Here is a list of the “must-haves”:

  • High school diploma
  • Age 18 or older
  • A Class B Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) with an (S) endorsement. Training for the license costs between $1,800 and $6,500, and may or may not be paid by your potential employer.
  • Additional school bus driver training
  • A clean driving record
  • A clear background check
  • A commitment to renew the CDL every two years, and comply with all regulations

And if for some reason your plan to become a school bus driver doesn’t work out, you’ll still be qualified to drive trucks, which might be a way to get into some other positions. 

Now, what are some of the reasons why you might not want to be a school bus driver? Well, if you think it’s hard dealing with the general public in the course of driving for rideshare and delivery, you’re going to be dealing with other people’s kids. 😱

If that doesn’t scare you, read on for a more extensive list of all that schools and contracting companies expect from their bus drivers:

  • Drive through all kinds of weather and traffic;
  • Deal with (or at least tolerate) student behavior – and misbehavior;
  • Keep a cool head under a whole lot of pressure;
  • Deal diplomatically with the students’ parents, teachers, and administrators;
  • Inspect, maintain, and clean the school bus;
  • Work early in the morning, and sometimes at night and on weekends for field trips and events;
  • Work when school is in session, and possibly also for summer school;
  • Deal with delays and school closures due to snow, ice, or flooding;
  • Possibly be responsible for escorting students on and off the bus.

Maybe you don’t think this sounds much more difficult than driving for rideshare or delivery. But something must be bugging school bus drivers, or luring them away from their jobs. According to an article on the School Bus Fleet blog, there are some solid reasons for school bus drivers to quit their jobs. They include:

  • Low pay compared with other CDL class drivers.
  • Part-time status
  • Split shift with limited hours leaves little time for other part-time gigs
  • Expensive benefits (due to part-time status)
  • Start-up costs (licensing, etc.)
  • A general complaint of “lack of support,” which translates into no backup from administrators when parents confront a driver, no help in maintaining order on the buses, and school policies that make drivers’ jobs even harder

Despite the downsides of this job, there are many positive points. If you’re a gig driver who’s sick of putting up with the uneven flow of income and lack of benefits you get as an independent contractor, the steady money and benefits you’d get driving a school bus might be a big improvement. Let’s see what the prospects for compensation for school bus drivers look like.

How much do school bus drivers make, and are there benefits?

While the work is steady enough, the average school bus driver salary isn’t as sizable as you might think it should be. Salary.com tells us that as of late September 2021, the average salary is $35,550 a year. Salaries range from $28,699 to $43,321, depending on location, the level of certification, and seniority. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly rate for school bus drivers is $16.67 per hour.

There are benefits available, but as we noted earlier in this post, they can be expensive. Most school bus drivers are employees, but they fall into the “part-time” category. That means, while health benefits are available, they are often as expensive or more so than if they were purchased individually.

There are some bright spots, though. Because school bus drivers are classified as employees, either by a school or a transportation contracting company, they are eligible for workers’ compensation, disability, and unemployment insurance.

How does being a bus driver compare to rideshare and delivery driving?

Your ideas about which would be better will depend on your personal situation. You may enjoy the possibility of working with children and teens, or you might shudder at the mere thought of it. At the same time, you might like being able to rely on a steady job with benefits, rather than feeding yourself steering wheel to mouth, so to speak, as you slog it out as a gig driver.

However, considering the cost of the training, the stress of the job, and the not-so-spectacular pay, it’s hard to say you’d be better off taking a school bus driver’s job rather than just continuing your rideshare or delivery gig. If you’re wildly ambitious, you might consider going for the bus driver job and do your gig driving in the evenings to make extra money.

Probably the biggest selling point the school bus driver job has is job satisfaction and the feeling that the work is meaningful. A survey conducted by OwlGuru found that 65 percent of school bus drivers were satisfied with their jobs, and 63 percent found the work to be meaningful.

The job satisfaction of most rideshare and delivery drivers might turn out to be the same; many of us, especially during the pandemic, found the work to be quite meaningful. Even though it may have been nothing more than giving rides to people and delivering meals, drivers did put themselves on the line to make the COVID-panicked world an easier place in which to live.

Maybe you can tell us how satisfied you are with your job, or whether you think you’d like to trade your driving gig to be a school bus driver. Leave us a comment here, or get into a discussion on this hot topic on the Gridwise Facebook page.

Don’t go anywhere without Gridwise

If the siren call of the school bus horn hasn’t quite got you running to get your CDL license, or you’re still gig driving while you’re thinking things over, this driving assistant for gig drivers makes life much easier. With Gridwise, you get:

  • Automatic mileage and earnings tracking
  • Info on the best times and places to drive in your area
  • Gas deals: join Gridwise Plus and get $.10 off per gallon with Gridwise Gas
  • Event information: everything you need to know about local events

All your activity will be condensed into nifty weekly reports like the ones you see here:

Even if you don’t make the switch to school bus driving, you should definitely jump on board with Gridwise today.

Download the app now!

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