ASHWAUBENON (NBC 26) — Wisconsin has around 750 fewer licensed school bus drivers now than in 2019, according to WisDOT.
“The whole industry is hurting," said Jennifer Brunette Head of Third-party Testing for Lamers Bus Lines. “We have our office staff driving, or mechanics driving, our accounting department. It's what you have to do, just like what the teachers are going through. They're not there, and you need to be licensed. You want your people to be licensed, know what they're doing.”
Starting this week, the DOT is allowing bus driver testers like Lamers to “waive” a part of the test: the “Under the hood” portion. This part consists of a driver lifting the hood of a school bus and checks for leaks, looking at steering fluid levels and checking the suspensions.
“Many school bus drivers are not really having to do work on their school buses," said Kristina Boardman, Wisconsin DMV Administrator. "And often it's handled by a maintenance office, and so if we can eliminate that part from the pre-trip as a barrier, then we went ahead and did that.”
However, Lamers doesn’t necessarily think this waiver will help recruit more drivers; in fact, they don't plan on utilizing the waiver for the tests they give.
“Here at Lamers, we do so many charters and school buses," said Brunette. "So the minute they're marked charter, a new driver wouldn't be able to drive those. So they wouldn't be able to make money.”
If a driver passes a test and uses this new waiver, they get a restricted CDL; they can only drive in Wisconsin, and they can only drive school buses. This won't solve the school bus driver shortage, said Brunette.
"We haven't had anybody come in the door because of this little exception," she said.
The DMV also sent letters this week to nearly 1,000 former drivers who let their school bus license lapse, to let them know that they are needed and how they can renew their CDL.