Bus driver shortage delays hundreds of MPS students

NOW: Bus driver shortage delays hundreds of MPS students

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Milwaukee-area bus companies are desperate for school bus drivers to make up for a critical shortage. Tuesday, Aug. 17, those shortages delayed more than 350 MPS students.

Seven-hundred buses are needed to get MPS students to and from school every day, but frustration is growing as they're still 75-100 drivers short.

Diane Hanke is the safety manager at Lamers Bus Lines. She says, "Everyone understands why everyone's upset. We just don't have the ability. There's only so much you can do."

Hanke says Lamers Bus Lines has 55-60 drivers on the road, and the company would hire 90 more tomorrow. Lamers isn't alone as all seven companies contracted by MPS are facing drastic shortages that created transportation delays for 350-400 students Tuesday.

David Solik-Fifarek, the senior director of business services for MPS, says, “We are working with companies to notify families as soon as we know that there’s a delay and letting them know if they’re standing on the corner the bus is not there, that there is a delay.”

The school district is consolidating routes to get to every student. Solik-Fifarek says, "We probably made adjustments to about 60-70 bus routes. And we expect by the end of this week we'll make adjustments to another 60 or 70 bus routes."

And current drivers are filling the gaps as best they can. Hanke says, "It's very stressful for them. Because they're doing everything they can to take on more routes, more students, get them home safely."

The bus companies say they're doing everything they can to attract new drivers.

Rosalind Thomas with Wisconsin Central School Bus says, "We are starting off our brand-new drivers at $19, up to $23 an hour."

Hanke says Lamers has "raised wages over $3 an hour from last year to this year."

And Andrew Peterson of First Student says, "We are also offering a $2,500 sign-on bonus for experienced drivers, and $1,000 if you don't have any experience."

Many of the bus companies attribute the driver shortage to ongoing health concerns and uncertainty. Hanke says, "It's a special person that can do this job. And be happy and make others happy."

The training process usually takes three to four weeks. Anyone interested will get a learner's permit, submit to a background check, take a physical, and get trained before taking a final test.

All the companies are hiring.

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