OC Experiencing Bus Driver Shortage; Committee Reviews Change In Standards

OC Experiencing Bus Driver Shortage; Committee Reviews Change In Standards
File photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY – The newly-formed Transportation Committee hit the ground running as it agreed for bus driver standards to become more flexible as the resort is facing a driver shortage.

Last Thursday morning, the city’s Transportation Committee met for the first time.

“This was established at the organizational meeting of the Mayor and City Council to meet with you all and address the issues within the Transportation Department and familiarize everybody with the operations,” said Mayor Rick Meehan, who was elected to serve as the committee chairman.

Also serving on the committee is Council Secretary Mary Knight, Councilman Dennis Dare and Councilman Tony DeLuca, City Manager David Recor, Public Works Director Hal Adkins, Chief-Deputy Director James Parsons, Airport Manager Jaime Giandomenico and Superintendent of Transportation George Thornes.

Not wasting any time, Adkins began a discussion over the timely issue of a lack of interested bus drivers for the town’s bus transit system.

“We faced some challenges this past summer with the overall number of deployment. We have been working on trying to determine ways to entice additional individuals to drive for us during the summer,” Adkins said.

According to the bus driver profile, there were a total of 132 bus drivers last summer ranging from the age of 34 to 85. Adkins pointed out there were 11 trainees with two having Commercial Drivers Licenses (CDLs) and nine not having CDLs.

“We are not relying on individuals who come to Ocean City in the summer season like a college student. These are individuals in most cases reside in the tri-county area,” he said. “We have certain parameters that we have worked with for years. We need to decide whether or not we want to tweak those or not.”

At this point, Human Resources Director Wayne Evans and Christine Parks of Risk Management joined the discussion.

The town’s restrictions on hiring bus drivers include being at least 21 years old, having a driver’s license for at least five years and not having over four points on their driving record.

According to Adkins, most transit systems across the State of Maryland also require a minimum age of 21 with having a driver’s license for at least five years. However, to receive a CDL in the State of Maryland, you can be 18 years old but have to be 21 years old to drive a school bus.

“In the past, we have never had a problem turning down individuals who are younger than 21 because they have never really approached us, but then again we have never done recruitment. They have come to us,” he said.

With the current challenge of filling bus driving positions, the department has investigated the idea of pursuing recruitment opportunities, such as attending the annual job fair in Ocean City. However, normally a younger crowd attends the event.

“The age of 21 requirements eliminates a potential applicant pool of college students who would be willing to drive for us during the summer time,” Evans said.

Recor interjected the age of 18 is too young in his opinion.

“It may be the state’s requirement but given the ridership during the summer and the atmosphere on the buses I think it takes a greater degree of emotional responsibility to control the crowd and temperament on the buses,” he said.

DeLuca recommended dropping one year on the age requirement to 20 and Knight agreed. Therefore, the requirement of the number of years of having a driver’s license would drop to four.

“We need to expand into that demographic and think of where we need to go to make contact with those possible employees,” the mayor concurred.

Besides job fair opportunities, the Transportation Department has been in contact with the University of Maryland and DelDOT to express interest in a recruiting partnership, Thornes stated.

“I caution though we are not in this boat alone. Transit organizations across the state are having the same problem in finding drivers and a lot of them are positions with benefits,” he said.

Ocean City’s draw is the town will train drivers to receive a CDL, Evans added.

“That has been fairly successful for us in the past. That may be the recruitment message that we want to get out there,” he said.

Parks, who has experience with insurance underwriting, explained regarding driving records there are different instances where a driver will have one violation that gives four points versus four violations with one point each.

“If there is a questionable driving record, I would recommend bringing it to Risk Management … I would want to know more about the person. I think the flexibility should be there, but I would not want to see any violations within two years or four violations,” she said.

Evans suggested the language of “acceptable driving record” instead of limiting the applicant to four points or less.

Adkins furthered he has been in communication with City Solicitor Guy Ayres regarding hiring foreign students as bus drivers during the summer time.

“His concern was if we felt the need to tap into the foreign student pool he would not be in support. He has concerns over the ability to verify driving records, and if it resulted in accidents and civil matters how he would get them back for court,” Adkins said.

According to Meehan, Annemarie Conestabile, regional manager for Council for Education Travel, USA (CETUSA) in Ocean City, brought forward the concept of hiring foreign drivers and is willing to meet with committee members to discuss a program that allows for foreign students to work for the transit system.

Following the commission’s consensus of the tweaks to the Transportation Department’s operating procedure regarding bus driver standards, those changes will be made on an administrative level prior to bus driver applications starting to be received in the beginning of January.

The next Transportation Committee meeting will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 13, at 9 a.m. where the committee will begin to discuss State Highway Administration’s proposed “road diet” of Coastal Highway to further enhance pedestrian safety. The creation of a “bus app” for smart phones will also be discussed.