ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Congressman Joe Morelle outlined new legislation Wednesday in a bid to combat the ongoing bus driver shortage in local schools.

The congressman hosted a press conference where he introduced the “Get Our Kids to School Act” and was joined by Monroe County School Board Association Executive Director Amy Thomas and Brighton School District Superintendent Kevin McGowan.

Amid the tail-end of the coronavirus pandemic, school districts across the country faced a number of tests, including that of filling up bus garage vacancies.

The application process for prospective drivers was made more difficult than usual due to DMV delays in the pandemic. On top of that, vaccine hesitancy and virus infection caused a cycle of drivers who would come in and quickly go out — even if resumes piled up, it seemed there was always a need for more.

Locally, the inability to retain a set number of drivers caused headaches for districts and parents within. Some schools were forced to close their doors and instead opt for online classes.

Others managed to get student-athletes to and from afterschool games with the help of willing parents. And some dealt with the mammoth-sized task of transporting more than 30,000 students to class.

Morelle says his administration will focus on ensuring that no district has to endure that again.

“We know how this story plays out and the negative effect it has on students, families, and school staff alike,” Morelle said. “With back-to-school just a few weeks away, we cannot wait to make the changes we need to ensure we can safely transport our children to school.”

As part of the new legislation, the congressman plans on streamlining the bus driver application process, getting more people behind the driver’s seat and more children safely taken to school.

The local congressman argued the requirement to know how to repair under-the-hood failures as a holder of a commercial license is unnecessary and ultimately a delay in getting drivers signed up.

“To get a commercial license to drive these busses, you need to know how to operate on the busses when they fail, something that no driver in the modern age should be responsible to do,” Morelle said. “I will be extending the waiver of application for a year longer to make it easier for districts in our area to get drivers in the pipeline faster and finally bring security to parents in these districts.”

Superintendent McGowan said that Brighton schools experienced a 33% vacancy rate in bus driver roles last year. Currently, the district has 14 out of 45 bus driver positions unstaffed.

McGowan says vacancies will cause participation from parents ahead of the new academic year but ensured that kids will get to school safely and timely.

“This under-the-hood requirement doesn’t really make sense,” McGowan said. “We love our bus drivers and their work is required for our work, we need more of them now and this legislation will help.”

Morelle pledges that while nationwide labor shortages may affect local markets, the requirements for these licensees are what is blocking applicants from getting hired and getting driving.

Officials say if the legislation is enacted by congress, local school districts should see a boost in filled roles. They also urge parents to not expect major changes in bus routes this upcoming year, although planning around future vacancies may come with periodic adjustments.

Earlier this year, the New York State School Bus Contractors Association estimated the number of bus drivers to be 15% to 20% below full staffing levels. 

Morelle said he will be taking the issue to congress and hopes to swiftly get the legislation passed.

Full Press Conference