The Virginia Depart-ment of Motor Vehicles is playing catch up to license new bus drivers to make up for shortages in the state.
Since the beginning of the new school year in late August, school systems like Fairfax County have had to deal with many issues as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. Among them a shortage which plagues school districts nationwide has greatly affected students, a lack of available bus drivers. The issue became so bad that area public schools made a post on their Facebook page asking for parents and caretakers to drive their children to class if possible.
Fairfax County Public Schools has been taking steps to alleviate the problem and attract bus drivers who are eligible and can complete the criteria for employment. The school system has made promises of a bonus up to $3,000 for drivers on top of raising the regular salary they would receive. The average salary of a bus driver in the United States is $32,000 per year according to ZipRecruiter.com.
One of the major impediments contributing to the shortage has been the lack of qualified drivers with Commercial Drivers Licenses, something else that can also be blamed on the pandemic.
This shortage came as a result of an order made by Governor Ralph Northam in March 2020 which closed all in-person DMV services temporarily to comply with pandemic protocols such as social distancing. Those CDL testing sites and other DMV customer service centers, with the exception of the Manassas site, would all reopen in May 2020 as part of the governor’s “Forward Virginia” recovery plan.
The Manassas site would eventually reopen later in June since Northern Virginia was lagging a phase behind the rest of the state at that time.
However, according to DMV Public Relations and Media Liaison Jessica Cowardin the way the CDL test was administered had to be adjusted in order to conform with social distancing requirements that were still in place. The department started using an out-of-cab method which had been approved by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, an agency in the U.S. Department of Transportation which regulates the trucking industry in the country.
Between May 2020 and August 2021, the DMV used this new process at their CDL locations to administer 53,563 knowledge tests which covers different areas of knowledge necessary for drivers. The department also administered 8,772 skills test events where prospective drivers could come to complete one or more of the three skills test exams segments.
The CDL testing sites finally returned to in-cab testing at the start of September as social distancing requirements eased up and allowed examiners to get in the cabs with the prospective drivers. As of September 2, the DMV had completed a total of 97 in-cab exams.
The DMV has also been working closely with the U.S. Department of Education and individual school systems such as Fairfax County to assist those who need CDL road skills testing.
The Fairfax County Schools’ Transportation Department can administer both the road skills test and the knowledge test through a very successful program which allows third parties to administer CDL testing. Thirty-nine school divisions in Virginia administer road skills testing through this program. School divisions can also enter into an agreement to administer CDL knowledge tests (the written test) to prospective school bus drivers. Thirty-one school divisions participate in this program, according to Cowardin.
Through those programs CDL applicants can obtain a commercial driver’s permit and then the license without having to appear in person at a DMV office. The department has also been accepting applications for permits and CDLs by fax or mail with a short turn around time of one to two days.
Through this third-party process 12,594 remote knowledge tests and 4,388 remote skills tests have been conducted between May 2020 and August 2021.
But with as many ways to get a CDL license available it may still take Fairfax County Public Schools some time before they can get their buses fully staffed again.