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School bus driver crisis in Connecticut might get worse before it gets better

The M&J Bus Company told FOX61 they needed to hire about 100 bus drivers yesterday, but that even wouldn’t offer relief until about 3-months later.

COLCHESTER, Conn. — A bus driver shortage has turned into a full blown crisis.

Connecticut school districts are dealing with it on a daily basis. It's a problem that may get worse before it gets better.

RELATED: Canceled bus routes cause chaos in Hamden on first day of school

The M&J Bus Company told FOX61 they needed to hire about 100 bus drivers yesterday, but even if they did, they wouldn’t see the benefit of that for about three months due to a broken on boarding and background check process.

"Every bus company is hiring for sure," said Jon Hipsher, the Chief Operating Officer of the M&J Bus Company.

They operate about 550 buses across 24 districts, or at least, they are trying to.

"We did some nice pay increases this year to reward the drivers. We instituted an attendance bonus which selfishly obviously improves the daily attendance," said Hipsher.

Some drivers may have chosen to stay on unemployment where a $300 monthly pandemic bonus that is set to soon expire may have been keeping people at home.

Plus, bus companies have also been dealing with vandalism to their physical buses with a rise in catalytic converter thefts.

"Another challenge for us every single day is protecting our vehicles," said Hipsher.

Over in Waterbury, their bus company, Durham School Services, is also feeling the pinch causing pick up and drop off delays for the district on just the second day of the school year.

RELATED: Bus company 'borrows drivers' to ensure Hamden school routes covered for second day of classes

"First day is always challenging especially with the little ones trying to find where their bus is so there is always a delay and that has a domino effect and that’s what we saw a little bit yesterday compounded by the shortage of drivers," explained Sujata Wycoff, the Spokesperson for Waterbury Public Schools.

To Bridgeport now, where added bus routes for more charter school students left them with no room for error or potential COVID quarantines.

Superintendent Michael Testani said, "If any drivers have to quarantine there may not be drivers to jump in those seats."

And that's a big deal because on top of a hiring crisis, bus drivers are dealing with a crisis of confidence.

Bus drivers are a more vaccine hesitant population. They are also part of a state mandate and required to get vaccinated by September 27th.

"I will tell you that that mandate is certainly going to present challenges for us," said Hipsher.

It's a challenge they can’t fully focus on until they boost recruitment. Who they are targeting?

"Stay at home moms and dads, retirees, folks just looking for a career change. If you have kids in the school system they can ride the bus with you which saves on you daycare costs," explained Hipsher.

If you are interested in being a school bus driver you can go to DriveCTKids.org where you can search for opening in your district.

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