school bus

A shortage of bus drivers recently caused delays at several Horry County Schools and caused a hardship for children and parents who rely on school buses for transportation.

The school district has nearly 400 bus drivers but needs 30 more to keep the big yellow buses running efficiently.

We didn’t have that problem when I attended South Carolina public schools many, many years ago. That’s because school districts had an almost inexhaustible supply of bus drivers -- high school students.

Believe it or not, high school students used to provide the manpower for most bus fleets in South Carolina and North Carolina.

These young men and women had the responsibility of getting children to school on time and returning them home safely every afternoon.

For the most part, the teenagers did a pretty good job. I can only remember a few serious accidents taking place during my time in school.

The young drivers made a small wage. In addition to transporting students, they also had to keep their buses clean and in good operating condition.

For all its inherit danger, the system of using students to operate buses worked well until the federal government got involved.

In 1988, the U.S. Labor department outlawed the use of 16-and 17-year-old bus drivers citing child labor laws. The death of a 4-year-old boy from West Columbia brought the matter to a head. At the time, South Carolina had 6,000 school bus drivers, of whom 1,200 were 17-years-old.

I certainly don’t advocate returning to the practice of hiring teens as bus drivers.

Yet, the shortage of bus drivers illustrates the need to make some changes in the current system.

According to school district officials, the shortage can be traced to a number of factors.

Nowadays, bus drivers not only have to be adults, they also must have a commercial drivers license which requires a good bit of training. Frequently, a driver with a CDL can find better pay and better hours by driving a truck or working for a mass public transportation department.

It’s also difficult to find people willing to work split shifts. Drivers start their day early to get students to school. Then they take a break and return after 1 p.m. to run their afternoon routes.

The pay is good, but not great. Starting school bus drivers in Horry County make about $12 an hour.

When the economy tanked in 2008 more people were willing to drive buses. The supply of candidates has dried up since the economy improved.

I tip my hat to those hardy souls who do drive school buses. Honestly, I don’t think I could do the job.

But if you are one of those people who like loud kids and part-time work, the school district sure could use your talent. It’s holding a job fair for bus drivers Nov. 2.


Steve Robertson is owner and publisher of the Waccamaw Publishers family of community newspapers

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