During school bus driver shortage, Schenectady bolstered by new partnership with CDTA to transport HS students

Schenectady High School students walk across the lawn in front of parked school busses at dismissal Tuesday.

Schenectady High School students walk across the lawn in front of parked school busses at dismissal Tuesday.

SCHENECTADY – The state’s mounting shortage of school bus drivers hasn’t had a negative impact on the city school district, but officials continue to monitor the tight situation with its contractors.

In essence, there’s “no wiggle room” for when a driver calls out, the district said this week, adding that its new partnership with the Capital District Transportation Authority to bus high school students has been “a huge benefit.”

“Right now, with all drivers showing up for work everyday and without illness, there isn’t a major issue,” district spokeswoman Karen Corona said of the six school bus companies it uses.

“However, with current staffing, there isn’t any wiggle room, meaning any callouts for illness or otherwise can cause transportation delays,” Corona said, adding it’s not a situation where students wouldn’t be provided transportation.

The district transports approximately 4,800 students. It has 232 bus routes, of which 176 routes are within the district, 29 routes are out of district, and 26 routes are for private and parochial schools.

About 510 high school students are riding the CDTA to and from school, Corona said.

CDTA spokeswoman Jaime Kazlo stated: “We started talking about this months ago, when the bus driver shortage was not as bad as it is now. So really it’s for them, I’m sure, you talk about blessings in disguise. It all worked out for the best and we’re glad that we’re able to help them out.”

The partnership falls under CDTA’s universal access programs under which it provides similar bus service with Albany City School District and Troy City School District, among others, Kazlo said.

In Niskayuna, school officials have declared a bus driver shortage, and that district is looking to hire drivers. During its Sept. 14 Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra said Massachusetts’ idea to bring in National Guard members to operate buses was a good idea.

On Sunday, in the face of the statewide shortage of drivers, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced several short-term and long-term initiatives, including opening new testing sites for commercial drivers license applicants, expediting the testing and permitting process and conducting outreach to law enforcement, firefighters, military and other organizations that already have trained drivers.

A study by the New York Association for Pupil Transportation two years ago found that eight in 10 school transportation directors considered driver shortages a major concern, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem.

“Our schools and public health officials have moved mountains to ensure our children receive an in-person education this year, and we are leaving no stone unturned to make sure schools have adequate bus service to bring students to school and back,” Hochul said in a statement.

“While the shortage of school bus drivers is not unique to New York state, I have directed state agencies to utilize creative approaches and use every tool at their disposal to help districts affected by the bus driver shortage, so we can bring in as many qualified bus drivers as possible as quickly as possible,” the governor said.

In an additional measure, the state Department of Motor Vehicles is expediting the process for CDL completion by removing the 14-day waiting period between the permit test and the road tests.

Through enhanced cooperation with county-run DMVs the state will also help to increase capacity to administer written exams and road tests, the governor said.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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