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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Simulator Technology Helps Ease School Bus Problems

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A guest post by John Kearny

As the economy strengthens, it becomes harder and harder to maintain the nation’s force of school bus drivers. Simulator training can help school districts train much-needed new drivers quickly and effectively.

Shortly after the first of the year, a public school in Maine was forced to call off classes when too few of its school bus drivers reported to work. The unprecedented closing was a first for Kermit S. Nickerson Elementary, and school officials vowed not to allow it to recur. According to local reports, however, the district is experiencing a critical shortage of substitute drivers.1 This is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a widespread—and worsening—shortage of school bus drivers across the US and in Canada.

According to a recent survey by School Bus Fleet Magazine, in fact, 22% of private bus contractors call the driver shortage “severe,” and five percent describe it as “desperate.” The director of transportation for Douglas County school district in Colorado, Donna Grattino, noted that bus driving is not as attractive an occupation as it might recently have been. “The economy’s better,” she says, “so people are going back to jobs they had previously, or they find the need to stay at home.”2

In addition to the economic recovery, a variety of other factors contribute to the school bus driver shortage, says Mike Martin, executive director of the National Association of Pupil Transportation. Drivers generally need a commercial driver’s license, which requires training, sometimes without pay—further restricting the flow of new applicants. Whatever is causing the shortage, its effects of the problem are being seen nationwide in the US:

  • In St. Paul, Minnesota, some students are arriving late to school because fill-in drivers are not familiar with the normal routes.
  • In Lincoln, Nebraska, some positions remain unfilled even after the local school district offered $1,000 signing bonuses for new hires.
  • In Hawaii last year, a driver shortage in Maui forced state officials to suspend bus  rides for some students and limit rides for others.3

In Texas, meanwhile, state government has turned to what is proving to be an at least partial solution to the problem. A group of prospective school bus drivers in the town of Atlanta, in the northeastern corner of the state, for example, are being trained behind the wheel of a state-of-the-art virtual training simulator, where they are taught how to handle—and recover from—a series of worst-case scenarios. The program was made possible by a $114,000 grant from the Texas Department of Transportation. “If we can save one child’s life,” says Texas Region 6 Education and Service Center Specialist Larry Thornton, “our goal has been accomplished.” Statewide, Thornton says, the program has reduced driver error accidents by 33%.4

As with the shortage of long-haul truck drivers, also a growing source of concern5, simulators offer an economical and highly effective approach to increasing the available supply of drivers for our nation’s schoolchildren. The technology can both reduce the cost of training and produce better, safer drivers.

About the Author:

John Kearney is CEO of Advanced Training Systems, a high-tech simulator technology and engineering firm that provides cutting-edge adaptive training systems to improve training and create safer drivers. He is called upon regularly by the media, such as Motley Fool, Fleet Owner, American Trucker, Tech.co, Super Market News and CBS, on the severe truck driver shortage and its effect on the economy, transportation logistics of goods and rising grocery prices.

 

  1. May, Ashley, “Bus driver shortage causes Maine elementary school to cancel classes,” USA Today, January 8, 2019.
  2. Osunsami, Steve, “School-bus driver shortage across the US sparks growing concern,” ABC News, August 15, 2017.
  3. Schulte, Grant, “School bus driver shortage creates headaches for districts,” Associated Press, December 26, 2018.
  4. “Atlanta ISD bus drivers learn from state-of-the-art training,” KTBS News, January 16, 2019.
  5. Long, Heather, “America has a massive truck driver shortage. Here’s why few want an $80,000 job,” Washington Post, May 28, 2018.

 


 

This post was offered to me by a PR firm. It covers an issue of which I had no knowledge. Originally it simply had US references, but some news items from Canada were added at my request. Since the blog has been a bit quiet lately I thought it would be a good idea to add some content from others, as the opportunities suggest themselves.

Please leave a comment below to indicate if you support or dislike this approach to content.

 

Written by Stephen Rees

February 4, 2019 at 10:43 am

Posted in Transportation

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