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Hillsborough County Public Schools reveals new incentive program to combat bus driver shortage

Employed bus drivers will be rewarded for referring new hires to fill vacant positions around the county.
Credit: 10 Tampa Bay
Students say they have had to wait after school for upwards of an hour while waiting for a bus to arrive.

TAMPA, Fla. — Hillsborough County Public Schools unveiled a new incentive program to help fill its open bus driver positions.

School districts across the nation, including Hillsborough County, have been suffering from a bus driver shortage and students are feeling the impact.

The small amount of drivers affects pick-up times for students, according to General Manager of Transportation Services for HCPS Jim Beekman.

"Pretty much, [the students] are getting [to school] on time across the board, what happens is the pick-up times are a little bit different," he said. "So what the parents were expecting at a 6:50 a.m. pick up now may be a 7:10 a.m. pick up because we are double running now. That's probably the biggest inconvenience."

The county has removed some of the barriers to starting as a bus driver, Beekman explains. People will no longer need to pay for the background check along with other costs during the hiring process.

In hopes of encouraging people to apply for the open positions, HCPS is also conducting a new internal incentive program.

Beekman said members of the transportation team in a non-manager position will get an incentive if they can bring new hires in. 

The reason behind the internal incentive? Those already employed as bus drivers know what it takes to be a good bus driver.

"Reach out to your neighbors, reach out to those you go to church with, those you're in different organizations with, you know what makes a good bus driver," he said.

According to Beekman, the employee who refers the new driver will receive a $250 bonus after they graduate from a class needed to start working. An additional $250 will be given to the employee who referred the driver after they complete the 90-day probation.

An employee can then receive $1,000 after three years through this incentive, totaling up to $1,500 for referring a new driver.

When asked how serious the bus driver shortage is on a scale of one through 10, Beekman said they are "approaching 10 real quick."

"I started in this business in 1983 and this is the worst I've ever experience with driver shortages," he said.

Some drivers are needing to double and triple their routes due to the lack of workers behind the wheel.

"This has been a trying time this year because we have such a shortage of drivers and riders...," Hillsborough County bus driver Otella Lowe said. 

According to Beekman, there are three requirements for becoming a bus driver:

  • You must have a love for kids.
  • You must have a clean driving record and no DUIs.
  • You must have no felonies on your record.

"We just want to reach out and say 'Hey,...we're looking for you,'" Beekman said to any future bus drivers.