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New York plans to address school bus driver shortage via outreach, expediting licensing process

WBFO News file photo
New York state is looking to address its school bus driver shortage, including by expediating the process for obtaining a Commercial Driver's License.

With school districts across New York having problems finding enough bus drivers to get kids to and from school, the state wants to change the way drivers are licensed, speeding the process while not changing the rules.

Over the weekend, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced major changes to simplify the licensing process to recruit more drivers to get their Commercial Driver’s License. The state Department of Motor Vehicles will expedite the process for CDL completion, according to Hochul’s office, by removing the 14-day waiting period between the permit test and the road tests. It will also work with county-run DMVs to increase capacity to administer written exams and road tests.

Additionally, the state is doing outreach to more than 550,000 current CDL license holders.

Locally in Western New York, the shortages are being blamed for brawls in buildings and vital after-school programs not starting.

“I've had opportunities to visit many of my schools last week and what we're seeing in the [South] Park District, at last, is a marked increase in the number of parents driving their kids to school and that presents some additional challenges, also, in terms of dismissal at our local schools,” said Buffalo School Board President Lou Petrucci.

He added transportation is an overall problem because so many other people can't afford cars. For Buffalo Public Schools’ after-school programs, the hope is to have enough drivers in October to get the programs up and running.

However, some school districts have managed to get by. Hamburg School District Superintendent Michael Cornell said his district is lucky in its private operator, Fisher Bus.

“They've employed some of their drivers for decades and have a unique relationship with their drivers and, to date, we're able to move our kids on time, according to our current start times and haven't had any interruptions in service,” said Cornell, who is also head of the Erie-Niagara School Superintendents Association.

Still, other districts are struggling. Niagara Falls Superintendent Mark Laurrie said he has half the drivers needed for his regular high school student runs. That leaves students with too much spare time and delays them getting to jobs or home to take care of siblings, and, according to Laurrie, has probably been the cause of two recent student scuffles at the high school.

“Getting to an after-school job or getting to get home to care for a younger one while their Mom or Grandma or Dad or somebody is working. So, that becomes a source of frustration, can lead to anger and it really is a circular problem,” he said.

He added that it isn't just bus drivers. The company which delivers food for district cafeterias doesn't have enough drivers to make all deliveries on time.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.