A bill pending before the state legislature gained the endorsement of the Brick Township Board of Education last week, as the district – like most in New Jersey – is struggling to find school bus drivers.
The latest bill under consideration in Trenton to ease the hiring crisis is one that would allow drivers without a commercial driver’s license, or CDL, to operate small school vehicles that can carry nine passengers or less. These drivers would still be required to obtain what is known as a “Type S” license that includes all of the requirements, including drug testing, of a traditional bus driver without the CDL aspect.
“Our hope is that we could get more drivers, because we’re short, if we were able to only require the Type S endorsement without the CDL for vehicles with nine passengers of less,” said school district Business Administrator James Edwards. “The CDL requirements require under-the-hood expertise on engines – nothing someone who’s driving a nine-passenger vehicle would need to know.”
State Assemblyman John Catalano (R-Ocean), who is currently running for Brick Township mayor, attended last week’s school board meeting and said he had concerns about the bill and would not support it in its current form, however he did not elaborate.
“I am not voting for it at this moment,” Catalano told board members. “I want to discuss this assembly bill with some of the co-sponsors who are for it. When it is finalized, if some of my concerns are not met, I will not be voting for it in its present state.”
The pair of bills that would authorize “Type S” drivers to forego the CDL, S-3203 and A-4835, were both introduced last year and both have been approved by their respective committees to be sent to the full bodies for a vote. The Assembly version of the bill was released from its committee last week.
The board unanimously endorsed the bill, suggesting it would help attract drivers. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, the national labor crisis has sent salaries for drivers with CDLs soaring, with many school bus drivers favoring higher-paying districts and private busing companies, or operating vehicles other than school buses.
“Although, the bus driver shortage is not as high as it was during the peak of the Covid -9 pandemic, school districts are still finding it hard to find drivers,” state Sen. Vin Gopal said in a statement when he introduced the bill. “Having more applicants qualify on the S level certification will help us meet the need that has become evident based on conversations with school officials and parents.”
Gopal chairs the state senate’s education committee.
The bill, as voted upon last week in committee, includes a number of safety measures and potential penalties for “Type S” drivers who do not possess CDLs. A person who operates a Type S vehicle while their license is suspended or revoked would be guilty of an indictable offense – New Jersey’s terminology for a felony.
The bill also provides that the Type S driver who is found to have left a pupil on a bus at the end of the route, is to be suspended for six months for a first offense or permanently revoked for a second offense. A suspension would not be lifted until the drivers completed a 10-hour refresher course.
The bill also requires a 90 day suspension if a driver is convicted of three or more motor vehicle moving violations in a three-year period, or accumulates six or more motor vehicle penalty points while operating a commercial motor vehicle or non-commercial motor vehicle.
“Type S” school buses are those that weigh more than 3,000 pounds, but are designed to carry no more than nine passengers, not including the driver.