UniteGPS – The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) released a press release on Jan. 4 granting states temporary permission to suspend the “under the hood” engine section of the revised Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) skills test. In partnership with the Department of Education, the DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) enacted this waiver in response to the ongoing bus driver shortage and COVID-19 situation.
Reasons behind changes to new CDL test
Set to expire on March 31, this announcement comes about one month before federal Entry-Level Driving Training (ELDT) comes into effect on Feb. 7. Specifically, the suspended testing for the under of the roof segment entailed inspecting the brakes, shocks, suspension, and fluid levels of the school bus.
This decision is part of a wider plan to implement a standardized training program for bus drivers consisting of new theory and driving curriculums. From the sound of it, policymakers claim to understand that reliable school transportation is the only way to keep classrooms open full-time and in-person.
“We’ve heard from educators and parents that labor shortages, particularly of bus drivers, are a roadblock to keeping kids in schools,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in the memo. “Today’s announcement will give states the flexibility they need to help increase the pool of drivers who are a key part of the school community and get kids to school safely each day where students learn best.”
According to Cardona, the administration encourages school districts to allocate the funds from the $130 billion American Rescue Plan to hire bus drivers and support staff. Under this falls offering increased compensation or other financial incentives for both recruitment and retention purposes.
Opinions about legislative changes
In the end, some industry experts don’t think this legislation will end up alleviating the stress school districts are facing to implement the new federal ELDT framework in the midst of a pandemic. This is especially true for communities closing across the United States due to surging Omnicron cases. As a result, the scarcity of qualified drivers is only intensifying.
“School districts are feeling tremendous related to the school bus driver shortage,” said CEO of UniteFGPS Chris Bunnell in a direct tweet sent to the U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “Please take a harder look at lowering the barrier to entry. This press release is essentially meaningless.”
Up to the state’s discretion, officials in Oklahoma, for example, are waiting to see whether the Department of Public Safety will accept the waiver. For some transportation officials, scrapping the under the hood portion ultimately won’t ease the recruitment crunch based on the extensive certification requirements paired with pandemic worries.
“It might at first until people get in and see what all is still required,” said Rick Greene, Coweta Public Schools Transportation Director and third-party CDL examiner for Oklahoma. “I think a lot of it is because most of our drivers are older adults that are still kind of afraid of COVID.”