TUSCALOOSA COUNTY, Ala (WBMA) - Alabama hasn't seen the extreme bus driver shortages other states are experiencing, but the job openings are still causing issues. Every school systems ABC 33/40 News spoke with had unfilled positions. For instance, Hoover has fifteen and Jefferson County has thirteen.
We visited the final round of testing for prospective drivers in Tuscaloosa County. Skills are tested in a parking lot and on the open road. Billy Hollon with the Department of Education's Pupil Transportation says the pass rates is around 90%. Roughly 1,200 to 1,500 are tested every year.
The process begins with a Commercial Learner's Permit through ALEA, then training on the local level followed by state classes. It's a lot to learn from equipment checks to handling emergencies. The buses are now loaded with cameras and more security features. The rigorous testing is considered among the top in the country.
With sixteen years as a driver in another state, Sharon Terry, completed her testing in Alabama earlier this month. "I would tell anyone with a love for children and patience that they should give this a try," says Terry.
The perks can be very attractive especially for retirees and small business owners with flexible schedules. "The state of Alabama is at the forefront. Our drivers are considered fulltime even though it's a four hour position. They get full benefits with retirement plus insurance," explained Hollon.
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The pay runs form around $15,00 to $18,000. But it's still a constant grind to fill all the positions.
"We are definitely having driver shortages. We have mechanics in the shop who will drive routes when needed," remarked Jeff Caufield, Deputy Superintendent with Jefferson County Schools.
In some rural areas routes can top sixty miles a day. In cities drivers may do double routes.
While the job's not for everyone, those on the road say they take their work transporting our most precious cargo very seriously.
"At the heart of what they do is their dedication. What makes you the proudest is the love they have for those kids and wanting those kids safe," says Hollon.