Bus Driver Shortage

By Aspire Economic Development + Chamber Alliance | | 1.9.23

Aspire Economic Development Chamber Alliance Johnson County Indiana

The strange nature of the post-pandemic labor market that has challenged many different industries is also impacting transportation services in Johnson County. The community is in short supply of critical transportation workers, especially bus drivers.

Although often overlooked, bus drivers are critical to the transportation system in both urban and rural areas where driving is the only way to get from point A to point B.

“Driving a school bus is a huge responsibility and many people do not appreciate the level of training and professionalism it takes to make sure every child is transported safely every day,” said Dr. Patrick Spray, Superintendent of Clark-Pleasant Community School Corporation.

“School corporations are competing with other school corporations and the private sector for the same pool of applicants, so extreme competition is the primary but not sole reason for the shortage.”

Johnson County schools will be among those most affected by the lack of drivers as many students are reliant on bus routes to get to school and home. Despite this trend, Clark-Pleasant has been able to maintain a full staff and continue to provide adequate transportation services for the families in its district.

“All CPCSC routes are filled, and we have subs available at this time; this is in addition to all office staff and mechanics being credentialed and available to cover in the event of extreme situations,” said Dr. Spray. “This is a result of a full-time effort to continue active recruiting for our transportation positions.”

Clark-Pleasant's administration has utilized several smart strategies and resources to stay ahead in such a scarce labor market.

“We have worked very hard at developing a plan to successfully hire, train and retain employees. Offering competitive wages and benefits is the foundation for generating interest in applying to be a bus driver. However, word of mouth, targeting parents and residents in our community, and cultivating a positive work environment are also critically important,” said Dr. Spray.

JCERN (Johnson County Employer Resource Network) Success Coaching is quickly becoming an integral part of our employee assistance and retention efforts. Sometimes an employee may feel that they have no other alternative other than to seek employment elsewhere. The Employer Resource Network can provide direction to services that may be unknown to our employees. It is one more effort to retain drivers and aides and contribute to a positive employee experience.”

Outside of the schools, residents in Johnson County who rely on transportation by bus are feeling the effects of the labor shortage.

“There have been days we have had to turn people away or cancel them due to shortage of drivers,” said Becky Allen, Director of Transportation at Access Johnson County. “We have had to cut hours because we have been unable to find drivers willing to stay until 8:30 which once they deliver the last person and fuel up, then that is when they would normally finish.”

Without the same support mechanisms that public schools have, the transportation industry is more vulnerable to unfavorable market conditions and competition for qualified drivers is even more fierce.

“The driver shortage here at Access has been an issue for several years and Covid did not help. We have had to make a decision on not using large transit buses due to the difficulty in recruiting CDL drivers,” said Allen.

A substantial portion of Access Johnson County’s workforce are retired individuals looking to supplement their income.

“Rate of pay is a factor; we are a not-for-profit and we are not able to compete with the rates of pay not just in our industry but also in the manufacturing industry,” she said. “We have not been able to offer health insurance for several years even before the Affordable Healthcare Act came into play.”

In vital industries such as transportation, if firms are unable to find talent and workers are unable to acquire good-paying jobs then the entire economy is impacted. That is why Aspire’s economic development strategy places a heavy emphasis on workforce development and improving employer-employee relations.

“All of our employers are having workforce challenges right now, this issue isn’t limited to our school services or transportation organizations,” said Amanda Rubadue, Vice President of Economic Development at Aspire. “Aspire continues our work to strengthen the workforce pipeline, provide resources to our employers to retain the employees they have and advocate for more transportation options across the county.”