CMS officials have received lots of complaints from parents this year about buses being late. They blame it on a shortage of drivers. A pay raise for bus drivers was announced Monday as a way to recruit and retain more drivers.
Effective this month, the starting pay for CMS bus drivers will go from $12.87 an hour to $15. School officials say about 700 drivers were making less than that amount. Long-time drivers who were paid $15 an hour or more will get a 50 cents an hour raise. Jemelia Bigby has been driving for CMS for 10 years. She’s one of about 300 veteran drivers who will receive the 50 cents pay boost.
“When my specialist announced it over the radio, people came back and said thank you, we appreciate it and were really excited, saying this was the best news they’ve had this week,” Bigby said.
CMS has 67 bus driver vacancies. Adam Johnson, the district’s director of transportation says he’s hired 105 drivers since Aug. 1, but 94 left for higher-paying jobs during that same time period. They’re going to places like CATS and other places that hire commercial drivers and start them out at more than $17 an hour.
“With this $15 an hour starting pay, that will place us in the position to be competitive with other driving jobs within our county and surrounding counties," Johnson said. "It will also put us as the top district in the state for starting pay."
The driver shortage is also contributing to buses being late. CMS officials say in the morning they are on schedule 92 percent of the time, but only 82 percent in the afternoons when they have more riders. Parents have criticized bus officials for not answering their phones when they call about delays.
“We definitely understand why parents are discouraged and frustrated, but we’re trying to run an operation with a shortage of drivers and one person in the office trying to answer phone calls and assist drivers on the road,” said Wendy Parker, the transportation specialist at CMS’ Garinger bus facility.
Parker says the other office workers are often filling in as drivers. Johnson says between the vacancies and driver absences, they often have to cover about 100 buses, which contributes to route delays.
“With lead drivers and me we can only cover about 50 to 60 of those so we have to split routes up in different ways and drivers may have to double back,” Johnson said.
CMS officials hope with the pay raise, they will fill the vacancies, retain more drivers and have fewer delays on routes. They have 50 people beginning training this week and with the pay increase, they predict more will sign up for classes next month.