There has been a growing shortage of school bus drivers for the last few years, both in New York and nationally; however, the COVID-19 pandemic further increased the shortage of drivers and had a tremendous impact on school districts, leaving them each facing their own unique set of challenges. Some districts are struggling with how to bus students’ long distances, while other districts are dealing with more students than drivers can handle.
To combat the shortage, districts are hiring emergency drivers, with the approval of the State Education Department. However, these contracts are normally limited to 31 days. Under federal law, school bus drivers require a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) as well as additional training, which can take up to two months to complete.
How is the shortage being addressed?
Governor Kathy Hochul announced a multi-agency plan to address the school bus driver shortage affecting schools across the State. The plan includes short-term steps to remove barriers and recruit traditional and non-traditional CDL holders, expand CDL testing opportunities, and enhance processes all designed to get more drivers into school buses. Additionally, the State is launching an outreach program to more than 550,000 CDL license holders to gain an understanding of the obstacles with getting more drivers. The longer-term steps include changes to address the training and licensing of drivers, as well as broader recruitment into the bus driver profession.
The DMV is enhancing and expediting the process for CDL completion by removing the 14-day waiting period between the permit test and the road tests. The state also increased capacity to administer road tests and, through cooperation with county-operated DMV offices, increased testing capacity for written exams. The State also opened new CDL Driver Testing sites by partnering with SUNY, the Thruway Authority, New York Racing Association, and the Office of General Services to use large lots on their various sites for the road test. For school staff who held an existing CDL, the State set up expedited testing to obtain a permit that allows them to drive vans and buses temporarily.
The State encourages schools to pursue creative and innovative ways to offer a wide array of benefits for school bus drivers that were previously not considered. This includes signing and retention bonuses, expansion of benefits to the drivers, and other options to recruit drivers in a nationally competitive market.
In addition to the Governor’s initiative, as of February 2022, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has changed the training requirements for entry-level drivers, which may impact the hiring of new drivers.
Entry-Level Driver Training
Effective February 7, 2022, the FMCSA established federal regulations requiring entry-level drivers to complete entry-level driver training (ELDT). An entry level driver is an applicant attempting to:
- Obtain a Class A or Class B commercial driver’s license (CDL) for the first time.
- Upgrade an existing Class B CDL to a Class A CDL.
- Obtaining a school bus (S), passenger (P), or hazardous materials (H) endorsement for the first time.
It is important to note that the requirements do not apply to individuals holding a valid CDL or an H, P, or S endorsement issued prior to February 7, 2022. Individuals who obtain a commercial learner’s permit (CLP) before the compliance date of February 7, 2022, are not subject to ELDT requirements if they obtain a CDL before the expiration date of the CLP or renewed CLP.
Entry-level driver applicants must obtain training from a provider listed on the Training Provider Registry (TPR). The TPR is a new system that is created and managed by FMCSA. The system lists all approved training providers and allows the provider to submit training completion directly to the registry. The information is maintained on the registry and serves as proof that the entry-level driver has completed the requirements. To be eligible for listing on the TPR, an entity must apply to and be approved by the FMCSA. After a driver completes the required training, the training provider must document and submit to the registry by midnight of the second business day after the training is completed.
What training must be complete?
Entry-level drivers attempting to take a CDL skills test to receive a Class A CDL, Class B CDL, passenger (P) endorsement, or school bus (S) endorsement must successfully complete a mandatory theory (knowledge) and a behind-the-wheel (BTW) training provided by a training provider listed on the TPR.
How will this affect New York?
If you are in New York State AND you provide instruction for hire, you must be a licensed driving school in order to be considered a training provider. The DMV will verify that an entry-level driver has completed the required training before allowing the driver to proceed with testing. Additionally, if the ELDT is provided in another state, New York will accept the ELDT completion, as long as the training provider is listed on the TPR.
Thomas is a member of Cerini & Associates’ audit staff where he works with our education and school district clients. He conducts claims audits at various school districts on Long Island.