OSSINING, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — The school bus industry is struggling with a driver shortage. It has been a problem for years, but is now compounded by the pandemic.

As CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported Thursday, it’s impacting children and families on multiple fronts.

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Before COVID-19 invaded, buses from 19 different public school districts served students attending St. Augustine Catholic in Ossining, a valuable help to families paying both school taxes and tuition.

But since the Omicron variant surge started, driver shortages have multiple districts cutting service to St. Augustine and other private schools, forcing parents to make other transportation arrangements.

“Everybody’s stuck with people catching COVID, whether it’s a bus driver or a bus monitor, and our parents have been wonderful,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth Donoghue, principal at St. Augustine.

COVID VACCINE

In the Hendrick Hudson School District, which serves many communities in upper Westchester County, 25% of bus drivers were out recently dealing with COVID. Transportation director Liz Gilleo said the same thing is happening in many districts and with many private bus companies.

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“Some schools have had to go remote because they don’t have enough drivers, and some schools have had to cancel runs, double up on runs, bring kids to school on later schedules so they can get one tier done and then start another tier,” Gilleo said.

Three years ago, the industry warned about a driver shortage, saying a strong labor market left jobs unfilled.

“Since the pandemic, it has gotten exponentially worse. People could stay home and collect a check and when it came time to come back a lot of people didn’t come back,” Gilleo said.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

Leaders in the school bus industry say New York state is doing what it can to be helpful. The Department of Motor Vehicles is prioritizing license testing for new school bus drivers, even scheduling them on Saturdays.

The industry is also asking the federal government to delay new training requirements in order to speed up hiring, and offering starting pay at $24 per hour and up, hoping to entice more driver to get behind the wheel.

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On Long Island, the Hempstead School District is concerned staff shortages may impact its bus contractor from being ready for all routes next week.

Tony Aiello