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CHCCS plans incentives to recruit and retain bus drivers amid shortage

Frank Porter Graham Elementary faculty await students to depart the bus early in the morning on March 26, 2021. CHCCS have recently reopened in-person instruction, although many children are still learning virtually.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools is experiencing bus driver shortages for routes, and the school district is hoping to navigate them through incentives aimed to recruit more drivers.

There's a higher demand for drivers now since the county is back to in-person learning, CHCCS Director of Transportation Bradley Johnson said. Several changes were made to school schedules last year due to COVID-19, such as alternating in-person and virtual class time.

“There was less demand last year because we weren’t transporting students in a normal fashion,” Johnson said.

He said the shortage is impacting students directly, as current ride times can reach a maximum amount of an hour and 15 minutes. On an average year prior to COVID-19, the maximum ride time was about 45 minutes. 

In an effort to recruit more drivers to help alleviate this issue, Johnson said CHCCS released a Bus Drivers Recruitment and Retention Plan to try to recruit 30 new drivers. 

Julie Hennis, coordinator of volunteers and partners at CHCCS and marketing strategist for the plan, said the campaign began roughly four weeks ago but was officially approved by the board on Sept. 2. The plan has a marketing budget amounting to $25,000, which will cover community outreach and advertising. 

CHCCS spokesperson Andy Jenks said the plan also includes a list of incentives for newly recruited and current drivers alike. Most of the incentives are monetary, with the signing bonus change from $2,000 to $4,000 at the forefront. 

Other monetary incentives include increased referral bonuses from $250 to $2,000 for any CHCCS employee who recruits a new driver and a perfect attendance bonus from $500 to $1,000 per semester for drivers. 

Jenks also said the plan includes non-monetary incentives, including 40-hour work week opportunities for those wanting to work full time and paid commercial driver's license driver training paid by the district.

“It’s a good job,” Hennis said. "It works well with any kind of lifestyle you have."

The incentives offered by the plan were made possible through emergency relief funding that was provided for the district. The total cost of the 2021-2022 Bus Drivers Recruitment and Retention Plan is targeted around $500,000. 

Bus driver shortages are not just a problem for CHCCS — shortages are plaguing the entire county. 

The Town of Chapel Hill is currently 36 bus drivers short, Transit Director Brian Litchfield said. On an average year, the Town has around 115 to 120 operators. 

“Like many situations for the Town, that labor pool and force are generally outside of Orange County," Litchfield said. "I think that’s part of the challenge we have."

Johnson said an incentive that both CHCCS and the Town of Chapel Hill have adopted is raising wages. Wages were lifted to $16.50 by CHCCS and $16.80 for Town of Chapel Hill drivers, which Jenks said makes the district the second-highest paying transportation department in the state.

Since CHCCS and the Town of Chapel Hill have a similar applicant pool, competition for drivers is further heightened, he said. The majority of recruited drivers are hired from outside of Orange County, so there are longer commute times to work for drivers.

“The faster we can get drivers, the quicker we can get kids back in school and back home at a reasonable time," Hennis said. 

@DTHCityState |

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