MILWAUKEE — Early Thursday morning, bus drivers with Lamers Bus Lines in Milwaukee started running practice routes to get ready for the upcoming school year.
But — there are fewer buses running those routes this semester.
“In a typical school year we like to have 100, at least 120, 130 drivers, maybe more, it just depends on how many routes we need to cover,” said Renee Schoening, the Human Resources manager with Lamers.
This year, Schoening said they’re no where close.
“Right now, we need about 90 drivers to cover everything that we want to cover and that’s on top of the people that we already have,” Schoening said.
There are a lot of reasons why there is a nationwide shortage of bus drivers. Schoening said COVID-19 did make the problem a bit worse, especially as people are worried about their health.
“There is a big part of it where people have been home, and some people have decided maybe they like to stay home,” Schoening said.
Right now, Lamers said it has five applicants who are currently working through the process of getting licensed to become a school bus driver.
There are a lot of requirements that go into it. You have to have a relatively clean driving record, you have to pass background checks and drug tests, and you have to go through the process of getting a permit and take classes.
That is where Schoening said she loses a lot of applicants.
“I can get someone through the process, if everything is clean, in a week. But, then they could take a month to get their permit,” Schoening said. “Those are the people I’m calling every week, ‘Hey, how are you doing? How’s it going? How’s that permit coming along? Do you need some help?’"
Right now, school districts, including Milwaukee Public Schools, have had to alter and refigure bus routes to make sure students can get to class.
Schoening said that is just a band-aid and not a long term solution — as several bus garages closed for good when school went virtual because of the pandemic.
It’s why a majority of bus garages are offering sign-on bonuses, or monthly bonuses to hire and keep drivers.
“It’s kind of one of those things where, ’no child left behind,” Schoening said. “So, we’re going to do what we can to get these kids to school and get them educated, because that’s what our job is.”
if you’re interested in applying to be a bus driver for Milwaukee Public Schools, you can call the following bus garages:
- Lamers Bus Lines 414-282-3566
- Durham School Bus 414-760-7480
- Specialized Care 414-383-7333
- First Student-North 414-353-1027
- First Student-West 414-649-2620
- Transit Express 414-264-7433
- Johnson School Bus 262-251-4230
- Wisconsin Central 414-481-1000
- Lakeside 414-536-2040
- Milw. County Transit 414-344-6711
- ALC 833-961-1349
- American United 414-274-3000
- Brew City 414-921-8111
- Cornerstone 414-540-8933
- HopSkipDrive 844-467-7547
- MC Transportation 414-877-6777