Horry County Schools bus driver shortage worsens, director asks for higher pay

CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – The Horry County School District is short 30 bus drivers, and that’s down at least five drivers from the start of the school year.

The shortage in drivers is something we’ve been talking about for more than a year, and the district’s transportation director says something has got to change.

Executive Director of Transportation Jim Wright says Friday the school had to use nearly every person with a CDL license to get kids home.

“We had our supervisors driving, we had our assistant supervisors driving, we had our driver trainers driving, and we do have a few relief drivers that were able to help us,” said Wright.

Wright says some routes were longer  because the drivers had to double up.

“We tightened up a few routes which means we’re not going to overload the buses but if you have a bus that usually has about 25 or 30, you might have had about 45 or 50,” said Wright.

Of the 399 bus driver positions, the district has 30 vacancies, on Friday more than 40 drivers called out sick, and 17 are on extended medical leave.

We asked why the district already lost at least 5 drivers since the start of school.

“Most of your large hotels throughout the Grand Strand have some type of shuttle service that if it’s built for more than 16 passengers, they have to have a CDL license. So, you’re competing with them as well as Coastal Carolina who runs buses and stuff. Most of the people that drive out there, used to drive for me at one point in time,” said Wright.

Right now, 20  applicants are going through training, but Wright says only about six will likely finish the entire process.
After that, it will take 4-5 weeks to get a driver on the road, thanks to a new step.

“There’s a little wait period between a 3rd party test from the DMV and the time I can actually put you behind the wheel. So, that was added to us recently with that delay and that hurts,” said Wright.

Wright says the salary for a bus driver in Horry County starts at $12.40 an hour and maxes out at about $16.40 an hour .

That’s something wright says has to change in order to fill the vacancies.

“It should have been done. Absolutely – that has to be taken a strong, hard look at and see what we can do to at least get the vacancies cleared up,” said Wright.

Wright says an increase in pay still won’t fix the work ethic for some people who don’t show up to work, but in the long-run it would help.

“It will at least get us back to an even piece where we can start dealing with those a little more harshly than we have been,” said Wright.

The district is in the middle of a pay study right now. It started this year, and it’s supposed to end in January.

Wright says they’re hoping findings from that will lead to solutions in bringing on new drivers.