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COVID-19 driver shortage hits schools, trucking, ride-sharing services

Published: Sep. 8, 2021 at 11:26 AM CDT
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(CNN) – The number of people driving for a living has plunged since the start of the pandemic.

School districts, ride-sharing services and delivery companies are all struggling to hire drivers.

School bus driver Nick Rocha understands why more of his friends are retiring from the routes they’ve run for years.

The return to in-person learning shifted pandemic fears into high gear, and a changing economy is providing other options.

“We have more people leaving than we do people coming in,” Rocha said.

The problem is also plaguing Uber and Lyft, which said shortages are hiking rates and wait times.

D.C.’s Metrobus system said it’s having a more difficult time recruiting candidates.

But the issue is especially acute for kids going back to class.

The Fairfax County, Virginia, school system is trying to fill three times its normal driver openings.

“It’s always been something that we battle with, but this is the worst that we’ve seen it,” said Francine Furby, the transportation director for Fairfax County Public Schools.

Those with commercial driver’s licenses are so in demand that in Fairfax County, the district is offering bus drivers a $3,000 sign-on bonus. The district is also raising their hourly pay.

In nearby Stafford County, Virginia, parents said kids are arriving hours late due to driver shortages.

“I think the answer is probably more money,” parent Nichole Dulin said. “If you pay them more, you’ll get better people, you’ll get more people.”

Poor pay and poor working conditions are why trucking trade associations said many are turning their backs on the profession.

Todd Spencer, who represents independent truck drivers, said the pandemic has forced a years-long problem to come to a head, and not enough is being done to keep drivers from quitting.

“Good people can find better jobs, better places and lots of places that don’t have many of the drawbacks that trucking does,” Spencer said. “So they look around and they take advantage of those opportunities.”

For school bus drivers, the incentives are increasing across the country.

Fairfax County has even won a few retirees back.

The nation’s 10th-largest school district wants this to be just a bump in the road to getting students back in school.

“We’re definitely looking forward to having more kids come in, and with that we need more drivers coming in,” Rocha said.

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