Gov. Northam weighs in on bus driver shortages plaguing the Commonwealth

Published: Aug. 19, 2021 at 4:53 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 19, 2021 at 7:00 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Virginia’s governor is weighing in on bus driver shortages as 19 school systems across the Commonwealth receive grants to purchase cleaner modes of transportation for students.

During an event on Thursday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced more than $10.5 million from the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust, will be used to purchase 83 new electric and propane buses.

However, many question who will be behind the wheel of these new buses as the state deals with bus driver shortages.

Currently, school systems across Central Virginia have more than 200 bus driver vacancies, a vast majority of them in Chesterfield and Henrico counties.

On Thursday, climate change groups called on state and federal lawmakers to help attract new drivers with cleaner forms of transportation.

“Such policies provide jobs for American workers and clean air for American people,” said Dr. Jerome Paulson, Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action.

Many of these advocates say electric buses are the way of the future; not only reducing carbon emissions but also keeping children safe.

“Diesel buses can be especially dangerous for children with asthma because the air inside them can be more polluted than the air outside,” said Julie Kimmel, project manager for Moms Clean Air Force.

It is why 83 old diesel school buses will be replaced with electric and propane buses across 19 school systems in the Commonwealth, including Caroline, Louisa and Chesterfield counties.

However, who will drive these yellow vehicles is another issue.

“We need your help,” said Chesterfield Schools Superintendent Merv Daugherty.

Earlier this week, Chesterfield County Public Schools posted a video of Daugherty asking for parents to drive their kids to school as they deal with a bus driver shortage.

It is an issue that has plagued the state for years and something NBC12 asked Governor Northam about at the bus event Thursday.

“It’s a good career, it has great benefits, so I think in time if we reach out, if we pay our staff - as you know we’ve given our school staff and teachers a raise - I think more people will come in,” Northam said.

Currently, Chesterfield and Henrico County Public Schools have around 100 vacancies each.

However, with many employers looking for new faces in all industries, Northam said it’s a worker’s market.

“Workers are shopping and a lot of them are being trained and retrained and going into different careers,” he added. “So yes, employers need to step up and know it’s competitive and pay these workers to do the work that they do.”

Wages among school transportation workers are competitive as well.

In the metro-area, starting wages for bus drivers range from $14.90 to $17.21 an hour.

“We encourage anybody with driving credentials to step forward,” Northam said. “It’s about helping our children, helping our schools. We’re confident that will happen.”

For information on how to apply for bus driver positions in the metro-area, click on the links above.

Copyright 2021 WWBT. All rights reserved.

Send it to 12 here.

Want NBC12’s top stories in your inbox each morning? Subscribe here.