Anne Arundel County’s School Bus Driver Problem Wil Get Much Worse - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Anne Arundel County’s School Bus Driver Problem Wil Get Much Worse

Image by F. Muhammad from Pixabay

It is no secret that there is a major school bus driver shortage in the United States, and of course for good reason. As a school bus driver trainee for Anne Arundel County, I have the inside scoop on both the challenges and problems the County faces. I think we all, if we stop texting and reacting to social media for a moment, are reasonable people, so I start with this.

Of all the cargo commercial drivers carry in commercial vehicles, what cargo is the most precious? Children. Yet, school bus drivers are the lowest paid commercial drivers nationwide. Charter companies, which replaced many school districts with their own buses, rake in billions in profit, while some school bus drivers make $13.00 per hour. School bus driving is a profession and an important one. I may just be a driver, but my job is to just get your kids to school and home safely. If we respect airline pilots, then we should respect the men and women that carry 60-70 kids on roadways that killed over 40,000 people in 2020. When I finally can drive a school bus, I will make under $600 a week full-time. We don’t even get overtime or benefits we can afford.

School buses are the safest and among the strongest vehicles on the road. The Jaws of Life will not cut through them, and that is in part what makes them so safe. They are also extremely dangerous and can crush most vehicles, even your cool pickup, as if they were cardboard boxes. Only rigs and heavy straight trucks pose a bigger, more dangerous threat, not your vehicle, dog, grandmother, or child.

Such freedom from risk involves the professionalism of our drivers. As a driver trainee and bus driver, I follow a strict protocol: random drug testing at any moment, no drinking, drugs, or any legal substance that could impair my driving, background checks from the state and FBI and regular training.

You have to love kids, even middle schoolers and you must be ethical, kind, and fair. We deal with parents, children, school officials, police, other drivers, dogs, and the challenge of focus, watch those seven mirrors, but not too much or too little. We are on camera with video and audio at all times, even when the bus is off. This is the only time that I appreciate Big Brother. We are important, and many of us died with COVID, but no one thanks school bus drivers. Though big yellow school buses brew angst for any driver, a moving red-light to race through, the driver and children are the most invisible.

Something is very wrong with this picture.

Anne Arundel County Does Not Pay Drivers for Training

Often, transportation executives phone our overwhelmed trainers demanding more drivers, “Where are the drivers!” There will be no drivers when the County repeatedly pulls their trainers for meetings and drive buses instead of training. There is a severe trainer shortage as well. So, I started training last month.

How many hours do I have behind the wheel? Not even five hours. Last week, my training was canceled twice, and the road test we were going to observe did not happen. I was a school bus driver in New York for seven years. If I get one solid week of training, I will zip through the test. There is simply no one to train me. I was hired for a job, but I have no idea when I can complete training and get my license.

We are not paid for training. In fact, my contractor will charge me $3,000 if I walk away from the job before a period of time. This may sound reasonable, right? I understand that a contractor for Anne Arundel County does not want to put in that time and money and then lose a driver. I have a solution. Pay them more. I kind of feel labor trafficked. I am told to show up for free. I am not getting paid, and have no idea when I can train consistently, but I am stuck. If I quit, I will be charged $3,000. How do I survive in the meantime?

The Maryland Department of Motor Vehicles is Backlogged

It’s not entirely the County’s fault. When I check to see what date I can test, the earliest tests I see are in February and March. That means I will be jobless for three more months. At that rate, I may ask the County if I can live in one of their contractor’s spare buses, like the homeless sometimes do. What is the County thinking? Yes, it is true that sometimes the contractor or the County can call the Annapolis Department of Motor Vehicles and get an earlier date. But keep in mind that we are competing against those Class A gals and guys, the big-rig drivers. Currently, the U.S. is 80,000 Class A drivers short, so they are going to let 18-year-old truckers drive 40-plus ton vehicles down the road. I just can’t wait! Texting and rigging! Now, I have another danger to worry about.

Since the 1950s, income stability has steadily eroded to the point now that there is no longer a middle class, and as one economist put it: If we don’t have a middle class, we don’t have a democracy. Have the right priorities. You can’t teach kids if there are no school bus drivers. This is not about the free-market system. It’s about human decency and dignity.

Practical Solutions for an Ongoing Problem

I happen to like Anne Arundel County, and I am proud to serve the County and its residents in such an important and meaningful way. I understand that the County has many challenges, but why are kids not a top priority? Here are some solutions.

Driver shortage: Driver trainees need to be paid for training. If we are paid, it’s okay to hold some cost over our heads if we get up and say “bye” after the County invested in us. If I was being paid right now, I could ease my mind and focus on my job. I want one job, not three. I want to be the best professional school bus driver I can be for the County. If I have to work other jobs, I will be tired and dangerous behind 40,000 pounds of pure steel. The greatest fear of any school bus driver is killing a child.

Driver pay and benefits: Back in 1995, the pay rate for a bus driver in Genesee County, New York was $16.00 per hour full-time with full benefits. Today, pay ranges from $13-20 seldom full-time or with any benefits. Bus drivers typically do morning and afternoon runs, about 2 or three in the morning and 2 or three in the afternoon. With the shortage, we have triples and quadruples. This is a safety concern. We have overworked school bus drivers, increasing the risk of an accident or child fatality. We are up as early as 4:00 a.m. and finish at 5:00 p.m. five days per week for part-time, very low pay. There are some mid-day and trip runs, but often this leaves a 10:00 to 1:00 window where drivers are not being paid. We cannot get other work. I am trying this, but I think it will fail. Who is going to hire us from 10-1:00? Do you want me, your lovely school bus driver, to work a night shift at a warehouse and then drive your kids with no sleep? What choice is the County giving us?

The solution is to treat us like First Responders. Hey, I got red lights on my vehicle, too, and I earned them! We should be paid for layovers, just like we do for firefighters and police. Since most of us agree that our weather is getting more and more severe, sometimes drivers have early dismissals, emergencies, lockdowns, so we need to focus on our jobs and be ready to roll at a moment’s notice. We have to handle medical emergencies on the bus, fights and are mandatory reporters for suspected child sexual and other forms of abuse. There is just no way around it. If you want to have good, professional drivers, you need to pay them a living wage, not a just-barely-living wage. Remember, a competitive wage means a poor wage and is misleading. At the very least, drivers starting a career in Anne Arundel County should get $25.00 per hour, the AVERAGE pay for a commercial driver. It’s still bad pay. Drivers should get raises and overtime because that is fair labor practice. But they should get benefits, too. Most of us are unemployed during the summer, but it’s a real struggle to find other work.

Listen to those that know the profession: I ask that County and transportation administrators really consider being a leader, not a follower in quality and safety when it comes to transporting our 87,000 kids to school. We are the experts, and if people only knew what we go through to become drivers so that we can get paid a wage that maybe a 15-year-old could use, it’s just sad. If we exploit our bus drivers, we are exploiting our own kids. There is money. There is always money. It’s a matter of priorities. Why on earth would our kids’ transportation and education not be a priority?

If this article costs me my job as a school bus driver, then I hope my sacrifice can create some change. I have a Ph.D. and three master’s degrees, but you know what? I just really want to drive a school bus full-time and have one job, not three. Is that too much to ask? The County is fighting me every step of the way, as is our County Executive. Will he even keep his initial promise? We will have to wait and see. I just hope they pay us in the meantime.

About the author

Earl Yarington

Earl Yarington is a social worker (LMSW) and a professor. He has a Ph.D. in literature and criticism. He is the Leader of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists Special Interest Group educating other professionals on pedophilia, hebephilia, etc. His focus areas are the representations of girlhood in media, eroticism, and child pornography law, paraphilia, sex offending and criminal justice. He is especially interested in the treatment of those with sexual challenges such as minor-attraction (pedophilia, hebepedophilia) to help prevent child sexual abuse while providing humane support for individuals seeking help. He writes about sexual issues, education, and occasionally politics. His writing is based on his expertise, interests, and knowledge in providing sex offender treatment for inmates and outpatient sex offender programs as well as his volunteer work with paraphilia and paraphilic disorders. Such does not represent the opinions or positions of agencies, universities, colleges, and schools where he studies or that employ him, nor that of the Baltimore Post-Examiner. Contact the author.

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