School bus companies struggle with recruitment coming out of pandemic

DS Bus Lines Driver

DS Bus Lines and Durham School Services, the two bus companies servicing Shawnee Mission, Olathe and Blue Valley school districts, are experiencing staffing issues following COVID-19. Each company needs to fill more than 150 positions per school district to meet individual district busing needs. Photo courtesy DS Bus Lines.

DS Bus Lines, the Merriam-based bus company servicing Shawnee Mission and Olathe school districts, is facing staffing issues ahead of the 2021 to 2022 school year.

BJ Garcia, DS Bus Lines division manager, said staffing up to its service levels for each district is a challenge every year. Shawnee Mission alone requires 215 bus drivers and about 100 bus monitors who ride on special needs buses, he said.

Now, coming off a year of uncertainty and remote learning due to the pandemic, there’s an added challenge for DS Bus Lines, Garcia said.

“I think, because school was not in [person last year], people were unsure if they were going to work,” Garcia said. “That affected us quite a bit last year, and we’re just trying to rebound from that.”

If DS Bus Lines is unable to bring staff levels up to meet servicing needs, Garcia said the company will likely call on drivers from neighboring districts to help fill any gaps — and the company has experience navigating coverage following the 2020 school year.

“I can honestly say, last year in the whole pandemic in this area, we did not miss a route because we didn’t have a driver,” Garcia said. “We’re proud of that, and we’ll continue to work to strive for that.”

The Olathe School District needs 250 school bus drivers and about 215 bus monitors, Garcia said. Garcia declined to share the current number of bus drivers DS Bus Lines has on hand for either district.

Durham School Services, the bus company that services Blue Valley School District, is also experiencing staffing issues. Anna Lam, a Durham representative, told the Post in an email that it’s “speculative to say what is causing the lack of applications.”

“The pandemic definitely plays a massive role in this situation,” Lam said. “It could also be because it is a part-time job and that there is an abundance of both full-time and part-time jobs in general.”

DS Bus Lines recruitment efforts
DS Bus Lines are using different methods to recruit bus drivers including staging buses with ‘Now Hiring’ information. Pictured above is a bus staged outside of the DS Bus Lines location in Merriam.

Recruiting efforts

David Smith, Shawnee Mission’s chief communications officer, said the pandemic is one contributing factor — alongside the availability of other employment options — to the staffing issues DS Bus Lines is experiencing. Still, Smith said he knows DS Bus Lines is making an effort to recruit in a variety of ways such as job fairs, staging buses in high-traffic locations and employee referrals.

Here’s information about upcoming on-site hiring events with DS Bus Lines:

  • For potential Shawnee Mission drivers, events are held Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. until August 11. The event takes place at the Merriam DS Bus Lines location at 5519 Merriam Drive.
  • Potential Olathe drivers can visit the location at 18950 W. 157th Terrace on Tuesdays and Thursdays in July from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Lam said Durham is working to hire 170 drivers for Blue Valley and has “invested heavily in recruiting efforts.” Lam did not elaborate on recruitment efforts, but said Durham works “diligently every day to attract new candidates.”

How to apply

Durham starts Blue Valley bus drivers at $17.50 for those with two years of experience or less and $18.25 for those with three or more years of experience, according to its Facebook. Those interested in a position, which comes with a 401K company match and paid training, can apply online here.

Those interested in a part-time position with DS Bus Lines as a school bus driver can apply for openings online here. Shawnee Mission and Olathe drivers start at $18.17 with no experience required, as well as weekends and evenings off, health insurance benefits and paid training with no CDL required.