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FIRST TAKE Road Wage WRITTEN BY RYAN GRAY | RYAN@STNONLINE.COM A


weekend getaway to Napa, California entails choices beyond where to eat, visit and sample the local fare. Te most pressing for my family? Hop on a one hour flight to the


Bay Area and rent a car for the final 40 miles to Wine Country. Or, take the interstate heading north from Los Angeles for about a six-hour drive, not including bathroom breaks and other pit stops that are mandatory when you have a three year old. (Evidently there’s a third option, fly into the public Napa County Airport, but I’m in the wrong tax bracket.) It might seem like a no-brainer decision to some, but rather than navigating LAX with a preschooler and fork- ing over more money for a rental, we chose the scenic route along Interstate 5 that winds up and down the infamous “Grapevine,” passes Bakersfield and expands across Central California’s San Joaquin Valley towards the Bay Area. It’s a long yet beautiful drive through the state’s farm- land. Tankfully, my daughter’s iPad was well stocked with movies and educational games. But being a main thoroughfare linking “SoCal” with “NorCal,” Interstate 5 is also lined with semis. You, my dear reader, know full well the expertise that’s necessary to obtain a commercial driver’s license and to operate a 25,000-pound (or much heavier) vehicle. I’d like to think that more than your average motorist, I am aware of the unique challenges that commercial ve- hicles face, as well as the expertise their drivers require. I saw truck drivers deal with more than a few cars weaving in and out of lanes, and then there are the periodic wind gusts and the mountainous roads. Certainly, truck drivers make a choice to navigate tens if not hundreds of thousands of miles each year through these obstacles. I watched a video recently on Facebook that espoused their dedication and professionalism. And, darn it, they’re nice people who do philanthropic work, the video says. And without them, we wouldn’t have our eggs, our milk, our Amazon delivery. It was obviously an advertisement to attract more drivers. Meanwhile, school districts and bus contractors face a driver shortage every bit as severe, if not more so. In


12 School Transportation News • OCTOBER 2018


spite of this, or perhaps because of it, the cargo they haul is of the most precious variety. Tere are also plenty of school bus drivers who I know are nice people, who have extra coats on cold days to give to students who need them, who (gulp!) buy snacks to give to students who are hungry. Where’s the Facebook advertisements telling these stories? Unfortunately, it all comes down to money. I’ve long heard student transporters lament the fact that too many school bus driver applicants run to higher paying gigs with trucking and delivery companies or transit agencies, once they have their CDL in hand, and the school district or bus company has paid for it. And why not, when national truck drivers on irregular routes are making an average of $53,000 a year, according to the American Trucking Associations. Meanwhile, private fleet drivers can expect to make about $86,000 a year. One consultant told me long ago that the perennial


driver shortage affecting the school bus industry— and this was about eight years ago, mind you—has everything to do with low pay, no matter how one tries to sugar coat the issue.


Te fact is, that school districts have always and will always prioritize classroom programs over transportation. And to look at the historic under-paying of teachers, school bus drivers haven’t a chance, right? Tis month’s STN salary survey shows over 53 percent of transporta- tion directors and supervisors think low pay is negatively affecting driver retention. Even more telling is the 10.5 percent who said they don’t know one way or another. Aside from pay, we discovered that two-thirds of our


readers said not enough hours was the biggest factor hampering their driver retention efforts—which also results in less take-home pay for drivers. Surprisingly, 43 percent told us that the promises of new technology are not proving to be an incentive to keep drivers in their seats, while nearly 28 percent said the jury is still out. Find more data starting on page 16 and continuing on page 32. Let me know what you think. 


Ryan Gray, Editor-in-Chief


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