School bus driver shortage hits Cape Fear

School district adapts with times

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) – There’s a national school bus driver shortage, and the Cape Fear isn’t immune to the issue plaguing the country.

The crisis is impacting New Hanover County Schools, which has school officials concerned. If things don’t change, the problem could go from bad to worse.

With traditional school gearing up to start in the coming weeks, the school the district has had to adapt with the times, according to Assistant Director of Transportation Debbie Trafton.

“We’ve seen an increase on the number of students on buses this year, but we don’t have an increase in bus drivers,” she said.

The district recently lost 30 drivers but only replaced 17. Administrators hope to fill more positions soon.

The shortage has forced NHCS to redesign routes, which will result in longer wait times, larger collection points, and additional overtime hours.

“One of the things we’re going to do more of, is called a double back or even a triple back,” Trafton said.

What that means is, students who live in communities closest to their school will be picked-up, then dropped off first. The bus will then head back and pick up a load of kids from the next closest neighborhood and continue until all students have been dropped off.

Trafton said the idea is to get students home more quickly with less time spent waiting at school.

The district has increased both pay and sign-on bonuses, and is offering better benefits to attract prospective drivers.

“One of the unique benefits of being a bus driver is the unique split shift schedule which is appealing to a lot of people who may be need to run home during the day or have a second job,” she said. “You will be working in the morning, take a break, come back in the afternoon and continue on and we have lots of opportunities to give you more work if you need it. “

According to Trafton, the shift is ideal for those who are retired or those who have kids in school.

As an incentive, the sign-on bonus has increased from $500 to $1,000. If current drivers refer new recruits, that’s an additional $1,000 bonus in their pocket.

“We’re very fortunate to have a really dedicated group of drivers who come to work because they love children,” she said.

Trafton hopes to add more people with the same attributes to the team.

Parents can help by immediately notifying the school if their child no longer plans to take the bus. They can also use the district’s mobile app to find bus routes and schedules.

Part-time, full-time and substitute positions are currently available, and all expenses associated with obtaining driving qualifications will be reimbursed.

For more information on how to start your career as a school bus driver, click here.

Parents can find school bus related information here.

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